Vol. 25 Issue 1 Reviews
Jerry Tabor, Jean-Claude Risset, Otto Laske, Agostino Di Scipio, Michael Hamman, Mark Sullivan, Insook Choi, Thomas DeLio: Electro Acoustic Music VI
Compact disc, 1999, Neuma 450-99; available from Neuma Records, 71 Maple Street, Acton, Massachusetts 01720, USA

Reviewed by Thomas Licata
Oneonta, New York, USA

Neuma’s recent release, Electro Acoustic Music VI, adds to an already impressive series of recordings devoted to electronic music. Comprised of works for tape alone and tape with solo instrument, this disc offers an exciting and refreshing collection of works that approach both sound and structural design in a variety of new and interesting ways. Several works incorporate imaginative applications of concepts borrowed from chaos theory.

The first piece, Jerry Tabor’s engaging Causey (1996), is an exciting and highly charged work for tape that incorporates a rather original approach to compositional design through inventive applications of chaos theory concepts. The composer writes:

Structural concepts… are represented as sonic articulations of behavioral principles revealed in the Feigenbaum Final State Diagram. During the compositional process an abstraction of the diagram was created that eventually served as an indeterminate score. This new structure allowed the process of composing to become divorced from the final state diagram and allowed for more abstract behavioral principles to be intertwined with the concrete local articulation of the system through ‘composed improvisation.’

The sonic result of this unique approach constitutes an amalgam of engaging and at times unpredictable behavioral patterns of the work’s highly rich and diverse soundscape.

Jean-Claude Risset, a pioneering composer and researcher, contributes Saxtractor (1995), a captivating work for soprano/tenor saxophones and computer-generated tape. Extracted and varied from part of an earlier piece for clarinet and tape (Attracteurs étranges), the tape part of Saxtractor is predominantly comprised of computer-processed clarinet sounds that beautifully interact with the soprano and tenor saxophones. In creating this work, Mr. Risset also adapted principles from chaos theory. The composer writes:

Saxtractor tries to illustrate metaphorically the idea of attractors as geometrical descriptors of dynamic systems: punctual attractors, which correspond to equilibrium positions, and strange attractors (with a fractal structure) which correspond to chaotic systems whose destiny is highly sensitive to initial conditions. The saxophones occasionally resort to turbulent flows and multiphonics, which are instances of chaos.

Daniel Kientzy, the saxophonist, gives a sensitive and altogether stirring performance.

Otto Laske, an important composer, musicologist, and cognitive scientist, contributes a powerful and dramatic work for tape, Furies and Voices (1990). Composed with the aid of Barry Truax’s GSX software for granular synthesis, this piece is an example of what Mr. Laske has described as rule-based composition. With regard to the work’s form, the composer writes: "Furies and Voices comprises three movements, entitled Prelude, Scherzo, and Song, each lasting about three minutes. It owes its title to the progression from an anonymous, and at times furious, sound stream to the intimation of human song, intoned in counterpoint with relentlessly moving sound masses." The three movements, clearly demarcated by a brief pause, are, to varying degrees, each comprised of multi-layered sound streams teeming with energy. (This piece is discussed in great detail by the composer in Otto Laske: Navigating New Musical Horizons, an important new book edited by Jerry Tabor from Greenwood Press.)

Agostino Di Scipio’s 5 Piccoli Ritmi (1996), for tape, is a particularly refreshing work. It consists of five sections, each announced in Spanish by a female voice. Sampled sounds from the scraping and scratching against the E-string of a guitar provide most of the non-vocal materials. These sounds were mixed using iterated nonlinear functions, concepts creatively borrowed from chaos theory. The piece opens with mostly abrasive scraping and scratching (processed with granulation algorithms) juxtaposed against the smoother, more fluid sonic characteristics of the woman’s voice, providing for a very effective contrast. In the fifth and last section, with the scraping and scratching transformed to softer, less coarse sounds, and the voice reading from a poem by Chilean scientist, Humberto Maturana, these two sound types are beautifully superimposed, culminating in a particularly striking blend of what was once two very distinct and separate sound events.

Michael Hamman’s replâtrage (1993, 1995) is an imaginatively conceived work for bassoon and computer-assisted transformations of pre-recorded bassoon sounds. Throughout the piece the bassoon sounds are stretched, enhanced, and neutralized, offering a wide array of timbral extensions to this instrument. The composer writes:

The bassoon is made from wood and metal parts. Together these form a resonant tube, a collection of precisely placed remote-control switches, and a lip-controller. These components collectively generate particular acoustic behaviors. replâtrage concerns a framework for the differentiation of the instrument’s technologies while urgently attempting to cancel its ‘literature.’

The interaction between the live bassoon and the many intricate manipulations and transformations of the bassoon’s sonic makeup continually engage and surprise the listener throughout the course of the work. The performer, Charles Lipp, gives a impressive performance of a piece that offers exciting challenges to all bassoonists looking for quality new music to perform.

Mark Sullivan’s thirty-two prose segments: a computer sound in child’s speech (1995/1997), for tape, employs an interesting mix of recorded sounds of a child’s voice (speaking, reciting children’s games, laughing) and non-vocal sounds generated from various granular synthesis programs. Concerning the structural roles of these sounds, the composer writes:

The speech segments provided structural models for the temporal proportions that nest both speech and computer sound. The lengths of the segments vary, and the boundaries between one segment and another are often blurred: some segments have little speech, some none, some have sequences of many speech fragments and others relatively long segments of speech, and so it goes for the computer generated sound and the combinations of the two as well.

The musical results of this design constitute an effective if not particularly playful articulation of both the speech and computer sounds alone and their integration.

Insook Choi’s The frog in a machine (1997), an evocative work for tape, is another piece that employs chaos theory. The composer writes that this work "is a study of enharmonic changes with the Chua’s circuit. The series of experiments and documentations were aimed at achieving enharmonic shifts from one phase trajectory to another in the system." Throughout this piece, there are many captivating moments where the sonic fabric shifts in very subtle and interesting ways, traversing from rather sparse to at times much more richly textured materials.

Thomas DeLio offers two pieces for tape alone that beautifully reflect his recent compositional work, m,nce (1997), and plinh,h (1997). The titles are borrowed from language poet P. Inman, a poet whose work is generally concerned with the sounds of words and less with their contextual meaning as a whole. Mr. DeLio similarly focuses more on the unique sound qualities of musical events and less on the continuity of those events. Typically, long silences separate these musical events, enhancing not only the experience of each sound but the silences as well. It is the supreme concentration and clarity of creative intent that I find so appealing about his music. The composer writes:

My goal is to isolate and emphasize the direct experience of each moment. As such, I am always more concerned with presentation than development and the identification of junctures between apparently unrelated sonic events. Such unrelatedness, I believe, forces the listener to confront each gesture—each sound—as if heard for the first time and adds a heightened sense of immediacy to the musical experience.

m,nce, made of four distinct sound events that resonate with one another in a variety of interesting ways, and plinh,h, exquisitely composed of austere shades of white noise and sine waves, are elegant realizations of Mr. DeLio’s personal aesthetic.

Electro Acoustic Music VI presents a collection of fresh, challenging, and rewarding music that encompasses a wide range of uniquely personal approaches to sound and structural design. It is highly recommended listening.