SEAMUS (Society for Electro-Acoustic Music of the United States) continues its series of releasing its back catalogue along with new recordings. Volume 31 features compositions reflecting the vanguard of electronic music by Jon Fielder, Maggi Payne, Douglas McCausland, Jon Christopher Nelson, Nina C. Young, Brian Riordan, Eli Fieldsteel, Kerrith Livengood, Becky Brown, and David Q. Nguyen.
Jon Fielder’s astonishing Think is a portrayal of a descent into schizophrenia, based on the experience of a close friend. Each episode is more fragmented and confused than the last, from the overcharged anxiety of delusion to a shattered inner dystopia. After the midpoint of the piece, the nonsensical speech gives way to faraway, wordless singing. Whether this transformation is an inner relief or a pharmacological snuffing-out, is left for us to determine.
Using fairly austere means (a Moog IIIP synthesizer and a sample of a cricket), Maggi Payne creates a rich sonic tableau in Heat Shield, summoning images such as a nightscape of electronic insects, the deep thrum of a robotic machine, and underwater storms. The four-section work begins with near-white noise that slowly evolves to a brightly metallic ringing, only to be supplanted by a low-slung mechanic thrum. Many seeming opposites — high and low, organic and artificial, atmospheric and concrete — interact in complex ways.
Douglas McCausland’s Convergence is a tour-de-force for “augmented” double bass and electronics performer. The extended technique vocabulary for the double bass is already impressive; electronic augmentation and a performer dedicated solely to the electronics opens up a fantastically expressive universe. Scratch tones, harmonics, grinding the bow into the strings are all effective on their own, but the transformations and layerings made possible with this setup, along with the exceptional virtuosity of bassist Aleksander Gabryś, create a tremendously powerful, dark, and sometimes terrifying experience.
Jon Christopher Nelson’s and sometimes wind from the south is based on an audio recording of a reading by the poet Robert Gregory. The poem is set in the aftermath of a loved one’s death, where thoughts and questions about what had happened and why intermingle with strange metaphors and surreal dreams. The incomprehension of grief is mirrored by the ebb and flow of the text, disappearing into and reemerging from a densely layered soundscape. It is a piece to listen to multiple times, for new meanings to emerge.
Originally part of a video collaboration with animator Yuliya Lanina, Nina C. Young’s brief yet powerful Always and Forever first presents sweet, choral resonances reminiscent of Cocteau Twins, but quickly takes them down a decidedly different musical path. With skillful manipulation of timbre, and adept use of acoustic samples, Young vividly explores the ironies, misgivings and ambiguities of interpersonal relations.
Brian Riordan’s Succubus transports the all-in, take-no-prisoners energy of soprano Anna Elder to a charged and unpredictable sonic universe. Starting with unprocessed extended techniques like vocal fry, nonsense syllables, choking and panting sounds, and various sung timbres, the processing creates an atmosphere of noisy gestures and opaque backgrounds, and transforms the voice into the titular succubus. Especially effective is the chorus. adding a demonic child to sing along with Elder, and looping, creating a proliferating choir of soaring sopranos when the possession is complete.
Eli Fieldsteel and Kerrith Livengood’s Sonic Crumbs began as a creative game between two friends, but what resulted is a work of cinematic breadth — a mysterious piece that we watch from a distance as it gradually evolves. A massive presence emerges from a passage of gentle, expectant rising forms; it is then commented upon in small varied gestures, some of which imply human voices. An understated counterpoint seems to connect them, but it slowly drifts away.
Becky Brown’s dark parts is both audacious and enigmatic. The shape of the piece is drawn by a layer of glitchy, overdriven noise, all points and sharp edges. Brown foregrounds this highly focused sonic vocabulary with an insistent zeal. Counterpointing this is a slow line of bell-like resonances that slips and moves against the noise, gradually balancing it. The enigma of the piece is an idée fixe of the word “inside,” spoken repeatedly by women’s voices throughout the work.
David Q. Nguyen’s Whale Song Stranding is a mesmerizing world that brings to mind fast-moving water — crystalline streams, ocean waves. The sense of motion comes from its texture built from short repeated sounds, expertly panned across the sound field. Expressive resonances and sudden silences give the piece emotional depth, like the organic responses of a living thing.
New Focus Recordings is an artist led collective label featuring releases in contemporary music of many stripes, as well as
new approaches to older repertoire. The label was founded by guitarist Daniel Lippel (who is the current director), composer engineer Ryan Streber, and composer Peter Gilbert in 2003-4, and features releases from many of new music's most active performers and composers....more