AMN Reviews: React – Music for Flute, Violin & Interactive Computer [Ravello RR7930]

5x5The pairing of violin and flute has a long history. During the Classical period, flutes doubled violin melodies in order to cast them in a brighter timbre. In modern ensembles the two voices generally take on independent roles to establish timbral contrast in the upper voices and to maintain more open textures. With the addition of electronics and the potential multiplication of voices they afford, the possibilities available to violin and flute both in tandem and separately broaden considerably. The compositions on React, a collection of new music for violin, flute and electronics by American composers Ben Johansen, David Taddie, Russell Pinkston and Margaret Schedel, bring many of these possibilities to realization.

The music came together during November, 2014, when violinist Mikylah McTeer and Taddie, who are on the faculty of the West Virginia University School of Music, went to the University of Texas, Austin and Baylor University for residences. While there, they collaborated with flutist Francesca Arnone of Baylor and the University of Texas’s Pinkston, as well as Baylor alumnus Johansen. New works resulting from the residencies were premiered at Baylor and Austin, and then presented at a concert at the West Virginia University Creative Arts Center in January, 2015. The WVU concert also included Stony Brook University’s Schedel. The recordings that appear on this CD—performed by McTeer and Arnone—are from the performances at Baylor and the WVU Creative Arts Center.

Johansen’s two compositions Interact and React, scored for flute, violin and interactive computer, open and close the recording respectively. Both pieces incorporate indeterminate and improvisational elements, which are realized not only through the random effects of live processing, but through the interactions of the violin and flute as well. Interact is a strongly contrapuntal, consonant piece which uses processing to multiply the two instruments’ energetic, independent lines; React is a more subdued, slowly developing work that makes good use of negative space and low dynamics, as well as extended techniques such as air notes and percussive effects. Taddie’s Category 5 (Echoes) for violin and flute/alto flute/piccolo and computer arranges violin and flutes in separate but overlapping spaces, as if in juxtaposed soliloquies accompanied by an electronic, abstract orchestra made up of samples of the two voices. Vox Clamantis, an expressive piece by Pinkston, is stamped by a strong, modally-inflected sense of melody. Schedel’s QfwfQ (A Voice a Point of View) is named for the narrator of the stories in Italo Calvino’s Le Cosmicomiche and carries the kind of uncluttered, minor-key gravity appropriate to a story-teller as old as time.

React includes three works for solo instruments. Taddie’s Luminosity for flute and electronics features a modally-evocative flute line accompanied by archetypically “electronic” sounds. Pinkston’s Lizamander for flute and electronics—a version of which, featuring Elizabeth McNutt on flute, was released on his recent Balancing Acts CD—is here, as is Schedel’s Partita, Perihelion for solo violin and electronics. This latter work, inspired by Bach’s works for solo violin and cello—Schedel, it should be noted, is a cellist as well as a composer—is, like the Baroque dance suite it’s modeled on, divided into movements for allemande, sarabande and gigue, the forms of which are interpreted in a free, and sometimes counterintuitive, contemporary manner. The gigue, for example, usually a very lively dance, is here played as a slow adagio. The Max/MSP program accompanying the violin, by adding a second voice, makes explicit the harmonies implied by the instrument’s line.

Daniel Barbiero


AMN Reviews: Russell Pinkston – Balancing Acts [Ravello RR7921]

rr7921 - balancing acts - front coverThe balance alluded to in the title of this collection of recent work by composer Russell Pinkston is that between acoustic and electronic sounds. Both are well represented here, separately and in conjunction with each other.

Pinkston (b. 1949) teaches composition at the University of Texas, Austin’s Butler School of Music, where he also directs the electronic music studios. His eclectic background includes studies with Jon Appleton, Mario Davidovsky, Chou Wen-chung, and even a time spent playing—as a quite good guitarist–in a progressive rock band in the early 1970s. In addition, he’s played an active role in founding and administering institutions dedicated to electronic music.

Balancing Acts is a balancing act of styles as well as of sound sources. The seven compositions realized here were written between 1999 and 2014; three are for wind soloist and computer, two are for small acoustic chamber ensembles, one is for electronic sounds alone, and one is for Disklavier and electronics. Some of the compositions are adventurous in their use of techniques and technologies, some are more conventionally neo-classical in their orchestration and tonality, and all are well-constructed. (In a generous gesture, Pinkston has posted scores to all of these compositions on his website.)

Orb Spells, the longest track on the CD, is a multi-movement work for electronics composed for the Sharir + Bustamante dance company in Austin. Inspired by the rhythms of Hindustani classical music, the piece intersperses interludes of synthesized tabla between sometimes somber, sometimes lush, passages scored for simulated orchestral instruments. Full Circle is another multi-movement piece, this time for the acoustic quartet of oboe, clarinet, bassoon and piano. A pulse-centered work, it carries echoes of Minimalism throughout but especially in the seven-beat based first movement.

Lizamander, a composition for flute and computer written for flutist Elizabeth McNutt, is paradigmatic of Pinkston’s tight integration of electronics with solo acoustic instruments. The piece, performed here by McNutt, has a semi-improvised, elastically-phrased sound built around tremolo, overblowing, air notes and other extended techniques which are seamlessly used to round out more conventional playing. The piece centers around the interplay of the acoustic instrument and the computer program, which creates melodic and rhythmic counterpoint out of flute samples lifted and manipulated in real time. Like Orb Spells, the piece seems to allude to Hindustani music, with the electronics and flute at times interacting like tabla and soloist during the jhala section of a raga.

Zylamander for French horn and Max/MSP has a similar jhala-like moment towards the end. The piece, written for Luke Zyla and performed here by Patrick Hughes, moves between a gradually developing, Lydian modal atmosphere and pulsing sections resting on sequences of sixteenth notes.

Daniel Barbiero