Vol. 28 Issue 4 Reviews

Various: Presence III

Various: DISContact! III

Various: Presence III: Compact discs (2), 2002, PeP 005; available from Productions électro Productions/Canadian Electroacoustic Community, Université Concordia University, 7141, rue Sherbrooke Ouest, RF-310, Montreal, Quebec H4B 1R6, Canada; electronic mail cec@vax2.concordia.ca; Web cec.concordia.ca

Various: DISContact! III: Compact discs (2), 2003, PeP 007; available from Productions électro Productions/Canadian Electroacoustic Community, Université Concordia University, 7141, rue Sherbrooke Ouest, RF-310, Montreal, Quebec H4B 1R6, Canada; electronic mail cec@vax2.concordia.ca; Web cec.concordia.ca

Reviewed by James Harley
Moorhead, Minnesota, USA

Of the various organizations around the world serving in different places and ways to promulgate the practice of electroacoustic music, the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC) has been one of the most successful at extending its resources and activities beyond its national origins. In particular, the series of compact discs the CEC has compiled, released, and promoted since 1992 has proven to be an important, valuable resource for presenting, in the words of Steven Naylor, recent CEC President, in his introduction to Presence III, “the breadth and depth of artistic practice within our community.” These recordings fall into three sets: Presence, artist-funded compilations of full or excerpted works; DISContact!, samplers of short works or extracts; and Cache, releases of short works by young and emerging sound artists. This review will focus on the latest releases of the first two sets, Presence III (2002) and DISContact III (2003).

CD CoverPresence III presents works by 28 composers, primarily from Canada, but also from Argentina, Australia, Germany, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As with most such compilations, there are no overriding stylistic or aesthetic unifiers; this fact makes for both interesting as well as potentially frustrating listening. It is not always easy to suddenly shift focus from one track to the next, but there is always the pause button to enable the taking of a breath to clear one’s mind a bit. A positive point to be made in the case of this collection is that the overall quality of the music is really quite high. Either there was a great deal of competition to obtain a slot on these discs or there is a great deal of good work being done out there in the electroacoustic community. Or, perhaps both.

Kristi Allik (Canada) presents a three-minute excerpt of Machine Symphony (2000). This piece uses machine sounds and steam engines as source material, orchestrated to create a rich score that does not easily unveil the identity of its components (no Schaeffer-esque steam whistles here!). James Bentley (UK) also makes use of noises in his double exposure (2001), weaving together an evocative mixture of fantasy sound and recognizable concrete sources.

David Berezan (Canada) gives us excerpts of his In a Cold Light (2001), an “acousmatic documentary that explores the perceptions and imaginings of northern regions of Canada…” James Caldwell (USA) draws upon unadulterated “pluck” sounds (the algorithm as implemented in Csound), combined with rather predictable fanning spectral envelopes for his Mechanism II (1997). Grant Chu Covell (USA) demonstrates his fascination with puzzles in the algorithmic Octet with Puzzle (2001), which combines a rigorous pitch ordering with varying sound sources and durations.

Ian Chuprun (Canada) contributes an electro-clip, “I was very safe… in my dream” (1998), derived from a longer radiophonic project, Ways of Hearing. While the spoken word is primary in this work, John Duesenberry (USA) was inspired by a John Ashbery poem to create WaveBreak (1994), an engaging work built from waves of sound, the relatively unpredictable durations, degrees of overlap (including some powerful silences), and timbral evolution holding the listener’s attention. Martin Fumerola (Argentina) uses exclusively electronic sonorities to create what he calls “non-evolutive mobility” in Estatismo (1989), and carries on his focus on electronic timbres with SC (2000), created, perhaps not surprisingly, using the music programming software, SuperCollider.

Thomas Gerwin (Germany) has produced a sonically fascinating work (excerpted from a longer soundtrack), Fontaine de Vaucluse (2001), created from manipulations of natural sounds recorded on-site. Martin Gotfrit (Canada), too, in his extract of Balloon (1999), derives rich sonorities from manipulations of the object of the title (mostly unrecognizable), along with snatches of spoken words by the composer’s young children. Camille Goudeseune (Canada/USA), on the other hand, uses his own FM synthesis algorithm to evoke chirping birds (of a strange sort) in Raroe Aves (1999).

Perhaps the oddest piece of the set is Mon Dieu (1998) by David Hirst (Australia), a combination of solemn, synthetic vocal textures combined with realistic recordings of a tennis game. Apparently, religion and sport are inherently connected for Aussies (or so we are told in the liner note)! Carrying on with the religious theme with When the light first shone (2001), Tony K. T. Leung (Hong Kong/Canada) orchestrates a beautiful set of timbres to create a nuanced evocation of the line of Genesis: “Let there by light.”

Tung-Lung Lin (Taiwan/USA) offers an extremely formal, palindrome-like piece titled Mirror of Time (1999). The rhythms are based on prime numbers, building up density (which then subsides in retrograde fashion).

Extensive signal processing was applied to a recording of a penny whistle in penny: a process (1998) by sylvi macCormac (Canada), combined with poetic words. One occasionally recognizes the source instrument, with its Irish folk-music resonances. Sophia Male (Canada) presents a very brief electro-clip, Alarm Calls (1998), which, according to her notes, “asks humans to watch where they step and heed environmental warnings, slow down, and realize all of nature is connected.” The canary (of the coal mine) is heard at the end. A poetic soundscape, unified in tone, is painted by Michael Mathews (Canada) in his On the Outer Edge (2001), inspired by words by poet Fernando Pessoa.

David R. Mooney (USA) explores the relationships between pulse ratio and harmonic series in The Llama Strut (2000), Section 14 of his 24-part Rhythmiconic Sections. The tuning is beguiling, and the pulse-tuning relationship is presented in a less obvious fashion than may be imagined, but the resultant timbres, relatively static, become grating. By contrast, Adrian Moore (UK) presents “a gentle reflection upon a few natural sounds convolved with a few imaginative processes.” Becalmed 1 (2001) is a more elaborate piece than the composer conveys in his notes, but one is relieved to discover that the accordion (one of the natural sounds used) is a “calming” sonority for him.

In This is Not a Model (2001), Rick Nance (USA/UK) shapes a composition from manipulations of “various shapes and masses of different metals… recorded as they radiated summer heat into a block of frozen carbon dioxide.” Less abstract sources—sounds of urban Japan—have been shaped into a powerful “interior monologue” by Steven Naylor (Canada) for his Irrashaimase (2000). Dale Perkins (UK) explores a more directly emotional expression in Submarine (2001), inspired by the Kursk submarine disaster. Emotive sounds are shaped by means of formal structure, and silence is effectively incorporated into the ongoing flow of the music.

Laurie Radford (Canada) pieces together a series of six short studies in spatial trajectory in his Les ponts de l’espace (2001). Transformed percussion sounds are framed by a recording of an urban street. Headphones will help the listener catch the focus of this piece. Ewan Stefani (UK) adopts a more playful approach in blue balloons (2001), combining heavily processed sounds with a recited poem: “The doors are shut, the ears are deaf, but we’re not there yet. We don’t want to die, fit and free at last, in the divine garage.” Pascale Trudel (Canada), too, makes use of a poem, but it is not explicitly heard in Soleil qui inonde mes mains (2000). Instead, it provides direction for her sonic journal, which begins (and ends) with the sound of a double bass, with various contrasting signposts in between.

Rodney Waschka II (USA) manipulates with great sophistication a single castanet sample in Still Life with Castanets (2001). Finally, Richard Zvonar (USA), in collaboration with bassist extraordinaire Robert Black, provides a stereo version of Massif (1995), the original being a rich, often subtle, wall-of-bass-sound for multichannel projection along with the live soloist.

Presences III is a fascinating compilation of recent work from Canada and elsewhere around the world. In addition to the music, the listener is grateful for the liner notes, bios, and pointers to composer electronic mail addresses and Web sites for further information should one choose to pursue it.

CD CoverDISContact! III, released in 2003, was produced as the result of a juried competition. Submissions were to be recent, original “electro-shorts,” no longer than five minutes (an expansion of the three-minute “electro-clip”). All submissions to the competition have been placed on the CEC Web site, encoded in MP3 format, with short program notes and bios, and links to composer Web sites where possible. The jury, in selecting the works to be included on the double-CD set (presumably to be distributed for promotional purposes, for possible radio play, etc.), was instructed to consider the following: technical skill, compositional skill, overall technical quality, formal/structural success, and articulation/clarity of ideas. All of this information is available on the CEC Web site; I can here reassure readers than none of the members of the jury submitted works and none of them has a work on this collection.

The CD set does not come with liner notes, so one must consult the Web page (cec.concordia.ca/DISContact_III/index.html) for the information. There are links there to each composer and personal Web sites where relevant. The direct integration of the Web into this project speaks to a change of attitude, even in the period of time between the release of Presences III and DISContact! III. Clearly, it is expected that listeners will be “wired” as a matter of course. In addition, given that all submissions, including those not actually included on the CD set, have been posted to the Web site, for many purposes and for many listeners, there is perhaps no pressing need to go to the CDs at all. One hopes that good loudspeakers or headphones will still be used for listening, and one hopes that given a reasonable playback environment, one will appreciate full audio over compressed MP3 files.

There are five composers represented both on Presences III and DISContact! III. These include: Kristi Allik (Canada), with her Sea Spirits (2002), inspired by “stories of mythical creatures prevalent in the seas around the Queen Charlote Islands;” Thomas Gerwin (Germany), with his The Liberation of Europe (2001), a short, “swinging” collage made up of speech fragments from “prominent politicians and important individuals;” Martin Gotfrit (Canada), whose Flights (2002) memorializes September 11, 2001, by manipulating recordings of a commercial airliner landing and the composer running down an office building stairwell; David Mooney (USA), with Studs Gone Bad (2002), again taken from a series of pieces, this time the second of six extracted from the “Ancient Chinese Enclosing Game Compositional Matrix;” Dale Perkins (UK), whose ‘Holiday Snap 2002’: A Sonic Document (2002) imposes a “point of view” on a collection of recordings gathered from the seaside town of Whitby; and Laurie Radford (Canada), with his Verb Tales (2002), which plays with a variety of notions of action over the course of its five minutes.

Space prevents a fuller discussion of the contents of this CD set. Many of them are fine electro-shorts and are to be recommended. I would in any case like to list here the rest of the participants: Paul Beaudoin (USA), Lamentus (for robert cogan and pozzi escot) (2002); Christian Calon (Canada), Vers les oiseaux (2002); Massimo Carlentini (Italy), Granular Leaves (2002); Gustav Ciamaga (Canada), Possible Spaces no. 6 (2001); Philippe Clérin (Belgium), Dérèglement (2002); Paul Clouvel (France), Etude Rostock (2002); Paul Dibley (UK), The Ciné Projector (2002); Chantal Dumas (Canada), Send (2002); Rajmil Fischman (UK), A Short Tale (2002); Robert J. Frank (USA), Muse (2001); Stelios Giannoulakis (Greece), Suvenires (2002); Simon Hall (UK), Klink…! (2002); Mark Hannesson (Canada), Reverberance (Echoes of Remembrance) (2002); Irvine & Vernon (UK), Hairpiece (2002); Elsa Justel (Argentina/France), Primpilipansa (2002); Frédéric Kahn (France), …de la matière première des saisons (2002); Ioannis Kalantzis (Greece), Ades (2000); Hideko Kawamoto (Japan/USA), Stroke of a Wing (2001); Michael Konkin (Canada), And Time Stands Still… (2002); Robert Mackay (UK), Need Without Reason (2001); Hubert Michel (France), Galets (2002); Lulu Ong (Singapore), Turn of the Century Tide (2002); Matthew Ostrowski (USA), tclinke tcrano (2001); David Paquette (Canada), Un million d’instants: 2. Les relations (2002); Giuseppe Rapisarda (Italy), FRDM (2000); Pedro Rebelo (UK), Four More Sho(r)ts - I (2001); Bruce Schneider (Australia); It Has Come Full Circle (2002); Paulina Sundin (Swedish), Electroclips (2001); Yu-Chung Tseng (Taiwan), River Side in a Summer Afternoon (2002); Shane Turner (Canada), Bedroom Apocalypse (2002); Michael Vincent (Canada), Essence (2002); Meri von KleinSmid (USA), The Observation of Curio No. 19 (2002); Richard Wentk (UK), Voice of 2002 (2002); Mark Zaki (USA), Down Every Company of Dreams (2002).

On the DISContact! III Web site, the avid listener can find 60 additional works, encoded in MP3 format (but otherwise given an identical presentation, including liner notes, bio, and links to composer and personal Web page). I will mention here only the two composers who also are heard on Presences III: Martin Fumarola (Argentina), CS (2002); and Tony K. T. Leung (Hong Kong/Canada), Winter’s Edge (2002).

Altogether, these CD compilations from CEC present a fairly broad panorama of the music being produced on fixed stereo medium in the early part of the twenty-first century, given the basic constraint that most of these pieces are under five minutes in length and none of them is over ten minutes duration. I am not a big fan of sampler CDs, but in this case, most works presented are complete rather than excerpts, and the information provided about each, either in the booklet included with the CD set or online, gives the listener some orientation as well as pointers to further information. As contact information is also included, one can only assume that the composers would be glad to hear from you. Let us hope that the CEC is able to continue to release further issues of these important CD series.