AMN Reviews: Thomas DeLio – Selected Compositions III (1986-2017) [Neuma 450-120]

Selected Compositions III (1986-2017) is Neuma’s third compilation of work by composer Thomas DeLio (b. 1951). As with the previous two CD releases, which surveyed his work of 1991-2013 and of 1972-2015, Selected Compositions (1986-2017) collects both acoustic instrumental and electroacoustic pieces, with a particular emphasis on DeLio’s settings of texts.

When writing about the second album in the series, I characterized DeLio’s work as embodying an aesthetic of intermittence—a focus on sound as such standing alone in well-defined islands of time. The pieces collected on this third album further elaborate DeLio’s deep engagement with the intermittences of sound. One area where this engagement makes itself especially felt is in DeLio’s settings of spoken texts.

On this as on previous releases, DeLio presents compositions that take recordings of the poetry of P. Inman as source material. Two pieces appear here: by parch reading (2016) and “decker” (1998). DeLio has said he has a particular affinity for Inman’s work and it isn’t hard to see why: what DeLio does with sound is analogous to what Inman does with language, which is to say, breaking it not at the joints one would expect, but instead dismantling it across those joints, the better to alienate it from its usual function—for Inman and language, the semantic or meaning-conveying function; for DeLio and sound, the function afforded by temporal continuity–and to recompose it in unexpected ways. Inman’s poetry recasts words and phrases from semantic elements into a kind of musique concrète of utterance; in a similar way, DeLio breaks sounds up to play off against each other as a series of timbral contrasts and likenesses. When DeLio electronically modifies recordings of Inman’s poetry a kind of multiplier effect is at work; what results are conflicts and concordances of consonants and vowels–an abstract music of the voice.

This same use of fragmentation is a significant factor in the instrumental works; for example, the two pieces for percussion ensemble: 2002’s wave / s for marimba and one-person percussion ensemble, and the earliest composition in the set, the two-movement Against the Silence…of 1984-1985. On both pieces sounds—a wash of cymbal, a trill on the marimba, scattered strikes on tuned and untuned surfaces of wood, metal, and membrane—play against the silence that breaks them apart and at the same time frames them. In fact it may be that this idea of silence—or at any rate a negative audio space—as a frame for sound is given its most complete expression in the series of six brief works from 2017 that appear interspersed throughout the album: each piece in itself traces silence as a framing device while at the same time serving to frame the works on either side. It’s a central motif of DeLio’s, put to work at two different levels.

AMN Reviews: Thomas DeLio – Selected Compositions II 1972-2015 [Neuma 450-116]

Selected Compositions II is the second installment in Neuma’s Composers Series of works by composer Thomas DeLio (1951). As with the first installment, Selected Compositions II contains compositions for solo instruments and small ensembles, some for electronics, and one relatively large-scale work for soprano and orchestra. DeLio, who has a background in mathematics and visual art as well as in music, frequently works with disjunctive forms and an expanded palette of sound; the pieces presented here are representative of the composer’s aesthetic on both counts. He also creates what he calls “deconstructions”—electronically manipulated recordings of previous performances of his work, one of which is included in the set.

DeLio’s rhetoric of discontinuity and rupture is particularly on display in two versions of inents (2015), an electronically-processed setting of P. Inman’s poem aengus for six voices. Inman’s fragmentary text lends itself well to DeLio’s treatment, which proceeds over a broken surface of silences, electronic sounds, and spoken words. The brief – en/l’espace de…(2007) for soprano and orchestra draws a minimum of sound from a maximal surrounding of silence; the pleasure of the piece consists in its paradoxical leveraging of the greatest instrumental resources to produce a microeconomy of sound.

The deconstruction included here is thoughtfully juxtaposed with the performance it takes as its source. The source, 1990’s anti-paysage for flute, piano, percussion and electronics, anchors isolated sound events in an ocean of silence; its deconstruction, anti-paysage II (2013), reduces the original recording’s already reduced surfaces to a glittering, second-order abstraction.

Daniel Barbiero