Vol. 27 Issue 2 Reviews
Thomas DeLio, Agostino Di Scipio, Linda Dusman, Wesley Fuller, Michael Hamman: MUSIC/TEXT II

Compact disc, 2001, Capstone CPS-8693; available from Capstone Records, 252 DeKalb Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11205, USA; World Wide Web www.capstonerecords.org/.

Reviewed by Thomas Licata
Oneonta, NewYork, USA

MUSIC/TEXT II, Capstone Records’ second release of text-based pieces, presents a rich and diverse compilation of works that, like the first (MUSIC/TEXT, Capstone CPS-8669), continues to address and explore the setting of text in a contemporary musical idiom. Comprised of works composed exclusively for the electroacoustic medium (the first release consists of a superb collection of electronic and mixed ensemble pieces), MUSIC/TEXT II features the music of five very different composers, each approaching the setting of text of five very different poets/writers in exceptionally unique and highly imaginative ways.

The first work on the disc, Michael Hamman’s discourse/current (2000), is based on the performance artist Chris Mann reading from his text, in representing. Mr. Hamman writes: “discourse/current is an attempt to make music with a poem that is already music… my intent here is to ‘stay with the material,’ rather than treating it as mere subject matter for transformations.” A refreshing and vibrant work, discourse/current is composed with the barest of sound materials. The work’s ten individual fragments are creatively lined with sudden starts and stops, simple sine tones and flat envelopes, barely audible sounds, extended silences, and imaginatively processed manipulations of the recorded voice. Remarkably, this quality of “bareness,” in combination with the rather disjunctive nature of the text and the overall sonic materials, heightens and intensifies the many intricately composed details that rest on this work’s surface structure. This draws the listener’s attention to the smaller, more local forms, creating a fresh and engagingly discursive quality to the overall structural framework.

Linda Dusman’s Becoming Becoming Gertrude (2000) impressively displays this composer’s handling of only two, unaltered recorded voices (male and female) as the work’s sole source material; there are no “electronic” sounds, per se. Based on a reading of a single paragraph from Gertrude Stein’s novel, The Making of Americans, the work begins with each voice articulating different word fragments. As the piece unfolds, more complete fragments and sentences gradually emerge, culminating in a full reading of the text at the end of the work. Overall, the piece projects a whirlwind of isolated words and sentence fragments in various repetitive patterns, colorfully shifting textures, and riveting juxtapositions of the male and female voice. What’s more, these voices are imaginatively projected in different points in space, adding to the many rich sonic manifestations the recorded materials undergo throughout.

An especially evocative and sensitive work, Vers (2001) by Wesley Fuller, is based on a selection of three complete poems and two poem fragments from Swarm, a volume of poetry by the American poet Jorie Graham. Recorded by a female voice and left unaltered throughout, the complete poems are bordered by the two fragmented poems, which begin and end the piece. The readings themselves are set against a rich amalgam of electronically processed sounds (generated with Csound) that merge, offset, and complement the text in a variety of truly exquisite ways.

Fragments for ‘Tiresias’ (2000), by Agostino Di Scipio, is part of a larger-scale work entitled Tiresias, a work whose text, as a whole, centers on the transportation of this mythical figure’s transformative powers to contemporary society. A captivating work, Fragments for ‘Tiresias’ is based on two poems by the Italian poet Giuliano Mesa, who is also the reader. The poems, read in Italian and left untouched throughout, are stated in their entirety and set against an overriding sound-world rich in detail and brimming with dynamism. Largely comprised of continually changing gestures and shifting rhythmic patterns of a rather grainy texture, this sound-world blends and offsets with the voice in beautifully subtle and at the same time highly dramatic ways.

The last work on the CD, think on parch (1997) by Thomas DeLio, is a stunning and highly original work. Based on a setting of four poems by the American poet Peter Inman, the work’s sound materials are nearly entirely derived from Mr. Inman’s recorded voice. Mr. DeLio writes: “rather than set words to music in the traditional sense, I’ve used electronic means to present and often transform the poet’s own reading of his work.” The four songs articulate a wide-ranging treatment of the text, from rather straightforward, unaltered readings, to complete transformations that at times leave the text nearly unintelligible. A particularly striking moment is found near the end of the third song. Alternating and overlapping with Mr. Inman’s reading of the text, the voices of both poet and composer are heard discussing issues raised during the recording session. This effect adds an utterly striking dimension to the work, not only further elaborating and transforming the setting itself, but its process as well. Indeed, it is this unique treatment of sonic materials together with the rather bold exploration of formal structures that make Mr. DeLio’s music so fresh and exciting.

Comprised of highly original text-based electroacoustic pieces, MUSIC/TEXT II offers yet another compilation of exciting works exhibiting a wide array of innovative approaches to text setting in the contemporary domain. Hopefully, this series of stimulating and challenging music will continue to be released.