Vol. 25 Issue 1 Reviews
Sever Tipei: raw cuts
Compact disc, 1998; available from Computer Music Project, University of Illinois Experimental Music Studios, 1114 West Nevada, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA; electronic mail s-tipei@uiuc.edu; World Wide Web cmp-rs.music.uiuc.edu/people/tipei/index.html

Reviewed by James Bohn
North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, USA

Sever Tipei immigrated to the United States from Romania in 1972. He studied composition and piano at the Bucharest Conservatory and at the University of Michigan. He has taught at the University of Illinois since 1978 and currently manages the Computer Music Project of the University of Illinois Experimental Music Studios.

An enthusiastic proponent of computer-assisted composition, Mr. Tipei has been actively involved in the creation of programs to such ends since 1975. In MP1, the first of such programs, sonic events are treated as vectors in a multidimensional space. It operates through the use of stochastic distributions, sieves, and Markov chains. The process involved is modeled after that of a scientific experiment, where initial conditions are set, a process set in motion (and left to run its course), and results received which are used unaltered as the final composition.

DIASS (Digital Instrument for Additive Sound Synthesis) is a virtual instrument developed from the Music4C sound synthesis program. DIASS can be used to create complex sounds with numerous partials, each able to be controlled independently of the others. One additional feature of DIASS is that it scales the amplitudes of sounds based upon the relative complexity of their harmonic content in order to have dynamics work in a perceived manner rather than as absolutes. MANIFOLD is a program for computer-assisted composition employing sieves with static and dynamic random distributions.

The compositions contained on raw cuts are manifestations of Mr. Tipei's view of composition "as an experimental and a speculative endeavor that delivers a particular world view." The pieces "want to provoke and intrigue more than to please." Most of the works included on this album reflect the composer’s interest in computer-assisted composition and his view of the computer "as a collaborator whose skills and abilities complement those of the human artist."

The title Many Worlds (1989) was derived from the "Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics." This allusion is played out in the composition by having each of the five percussion parts start in unison then become increasingly independent of one another. This is aided in a concert situation by placing room dividers between the performers. Each stream of the composition, which was written with the aid of MP1, progresses through four areas, each dominated by a single timbre: metal, glass, skin, and wood. In this sense, the piece is similar to Iannis Xenakis's Pléïades for six percussionists (1978), a work which also treats the percussionists in terms of timbral families.

Curses is a setting of a poem by Romanian poet Tudor Arghezi (1880-1967). The text, written in 1927, presents a series of increasingly intense curses, which function as "a perverted prayer capable of triggering dreadful events." The composition is written for a male reciter accompanied by four female backup singers and an underlying computer-generated tape part. Comprised of both prerecorded and synthesized sounds, the tape part clearly reflects the energy level of the poem, as does the volume and emphasis of the recitation. Throughout the the tape part, a bass drum-like sound is reiterated in a relentless manner. The four female vocalists sing in a style that is influenced by American popular music. They also vocalize on animal sounds as well as nonsense sounds. The work is a collection of unique sounds from a variety of sources that are assembled to create a clear design leading toward the climatic ending of the poem. Unlike many other "theater" pieces, Curses retains much of its power as an audio recording.

Kings Nap, for solo piano, was written in 1994, and is performed here by Mr. Tipei himself. Much of the pitch material (which centers on F) and the rhythmic material was generated by sieves (a kind of logical filter). The composition consists of two parts, the first alternating between thick harmonies or clusters and lighter passages that include runs. The second part focuses on sounds created inside the piano in the lower range of the instrument. Near the end of the second section, there are a couple of allusions to the lighter material from the first section that round out the work, to an extent.

The text to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman Killing Herself with a 'coup de telephone' in MI 48105 reflects Mr. Tipei's ideas on the collaboration process between computer and composer: "I cannot judge by myself; I judge as I am bidden, and my sentence is just because my aim is not my own will but the will of Him who sent me" (John: 5:30). The composition is a drawn-out setting of this text for four female voices, ending with the ring of a telephone. The vocalists employ many non-standard means of tone production (e.g., singing, breathing, and singing while breathing inward). Written in 1975, this was the second composition created with the aid of the MP1 program. The work was generated by employing a cantus firmus approach which was loosened by using Markov chains to create approximations of the source material (five popular melodies).

Mr. Tipei characterizes his Lament for solo piano (1980) as a "look at the irrecoverable past." Admirably performed by the composer himself, the piece is clearly pianistic in its approach to the instrument. It is in three sections, the outer two based on "modal intonations" that are "reminiscent of European folklore." The relatively brief central section features some low tessitura, heterophonic treatments of a tone-row in addition to "rhythmic canons in continual diminution."

Written in 1994, Cantus Interruptus is a partial setting of Petrarch's "Rime 246," with an interruption in English about halfway through the piece that comments on the earlier text. The composition is for baritone voice and prepared piano. Here Mr. Tipei is joined by baritone Ronald Hedlund.

Composed with the aid of MANIFOLD and synthesized by DIASS, Mr. Tipei's A.N.L.-folds are examples of what he calls a "manifold composition." Introduced in 1989 by the composer, this term defines "all actual and potential variants of a musical work produced by a computer program which contains elements of indeterminacy and uses only one set of data." Mr. Tipei adds that "manifold compositions represent an idiomatic way of using computers by mass producing slightly different and, at the same time, unique versions of the same archetype." His personal wish is that "each version be performed in public only once, thus underscoring the desire to distance himself from the production of 'art objects' and stressing the ephemeral quality of any musical activity."

Each version of A.N.L.-folds is 2:26 in duration. They all begin and end with the same sonority, which Mr. Tipei calls the "Argonne chime" (A, Re, G, O=sol, N=non pitched percussion, and a large E gong). This sonority, which is named after the Argonne National Laboratory where the work was realized on the facility's IBM SP computer, is also included in the middle of the piece. Five "manifolds" of the composition are included, and each contains the same classes of sounds, which are employed to demonstrate the capabilities of DIASS.

The performances included on this album are quite good, and perhaps one of the greatest qualities of the collection is variety. Each piece is clearly distinct from the others, preventing the ear from getting lulled into a rut by the intrinsic redundancy of consistency. Actually, the notion of variety is very important in Mr. Tipei's music. He often treats sounds as unique events which occur only once in a given work. Curses is perhaps the best example of such an approach. Another composer who is known for this sort of approach to sound is John Cage (particularly in works like Water Music or the Concerto for Prepared Piano). The use of unique events in composition encourages active listening, and perhaps points to a "world view" where time is ephemeral, and therefore precious.