Vol. 29 Issue 4 Reviews

14th Florida Electroacoustic Music Festival, 2005

Black Box Theater, Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA, 7-9 April, 2005.

Reviewed by Larry Austin
Denton, Texas, USA

The 14th annual Florida Electroacoustic Music Festival (FEMF), directed by its founder, James Paul Sain, was presented at the University of Florida, Gainesville, April 7-9, 2005, with Morton Subotnick as guest Composer-in-Residence. Nine concerts of new electroacoustic/computer music compositions included a broad spectrum of fixed-media audio, video, and DVD pieces, as well as various mixed-media combinations of  instruments, voice, soloists, ensembles, electronics, and dance, many works performed with interactive computer music/video involvement.

All FEMF concerts were produced in the University of Florida, Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Black Box Theater, an intimate but excellent sounding venue equipped with eight-channel playback, the loudspeakers surrounding the audience for optimal listening. Five of the nine concerts were "juried concerts," including works submitted for consideration, then selected for performance. Two ongoing programming traditions, instituted by Mr. Sain in the 1990s, provide FEMF with a national/international flavor: 1) invited/curated  concerts by other well established university/college electroacoustic music studios in the USA; and 2) an annual concert of European electroacoustic music curated by FEMF Associate Director Javier Alejandro Garavaglia (UK/Germany). Additionally, Mr. Sain carries on an established FEMF practice of welcoming works for performance by past FEMF  Composers-in-Residence, giving festival participants an opportunity to hear recent compositions by widely recognized practitioners—your present writer included, I'm gratified to mention. 

Concert-1: Electroacoustic Music from the Florida Electroacoustic Music Studio (FEMS)

The first of four curated concerts was presented by the resident University of Florida studio, FEMS, as a morning concert on the first day. Cast as a beat-oriented metaphor for the disorientation experienced by a person with Attention Deficit Disorder, composer Tim Reed's harmonica sounds seemed to wander aimlessly about the space in his Invisible Vectors. Russell Brown's Catchpenny featured violist Sally Barton in dialogue with pre-recorded viola pizzicati, then arco, then patterns, scales, and sustained sounds, all about discrepancies between just and tempered tuning—playing out a rather dry essay on same.

The title of Patrick Pagano's DVD piece, Taking a Picture of Taking a Picture, tells it all: mixed sonic textures combined with visual collaborator Amy Laughlin's album of flickering photo images. The program continued with Chan Ji Kim's Awaiting, nicely mixed, sustained tones, reflectively soulful. As annotated by the composer, Joo Won Park's Binge was a “textural variation on seven percussion samples," looped and variously combined imaginatively, much as a human percussionist might have improvised. New Reactions, by Samuel Hamm, colorfully sets a short, recited poem of the same name by Neil Flory, expertly exploring a variety of time-stretching processes. The last and best piece of the concert was What the Bird Saw by Suk-Jun Kim (Korea/USA). The beautifully chosen and creatively diffused sounds were, as the composer described in his notes, "bits of oblivious memories… watching what a bird would see and listening to what a bird would hear."

Concert-2: Music from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music 

The afternoon concert of the first day was curated by composer Mara Helmuth, director of (ccm)2, the College-Conservatory of Music Center for Computer Music at the University of Cincinnati, featuring performances by its own resident NeXT Ens Ensemble. Three mixed-mood, fixed-media pieces opened the concert: Maria Panayotova-Martin's DVD piece, Il Semforo Blu, (heard again in full stereo in Concert VII) with animation by Fang Zhao; Kazuaki Shiota's Crumble; and Matthew Planchak's etudes (...scapes), the best conceived/realized of the three. 

The remaining six pieces on the program were for different combinations of the instruments of the ensemble (flute, piano, violin, cello, percussion) and electronics, juxtaposing more musically evocative experiences. Cassini Division, by Margaret Schedel, for four instruments with programmed Max/MSP computer interaction and video projection, explored abstract formulations of the harmonic series, sustaining attractively complex sounds and sights, like the gravitational resonances of Saturn's moons, her metaphorical allusion. Jennifer Bernard's oxymoronic Pure Dribble, for several instruments and recorded basketball game sounds, was great fun for players and audience alike, complete with a seventh-inning stretch (sic). Gabriel Ottoson-Deal's Scintillating Fish followed: a short, cute, minimalist piece, mainly for flutist Carlos Velez, whose improvised cadenzas interacted cleverly with a Max/MSP patch. In his program notes, Christopher Bailey characterized his piece, Balladei, for piano and CD, as "a twisted mish-mash of fragmented medieval-European musical syntax… North Indian Shenai music, medieval dance rhythms, Irish jigs, and more." Enough said. In contrast, composer Ivica Ico Bukvic provided no notes at all, yet his piece, Tabula Rasa, for flute, cello, piano, and electronics, swelled and elaborated beautiful sonorities, well-suited for this classic ensemble.  Mara Helmuth's The Edge of Noise, for the full ensemble and electronics, rowdily finished the program with noisily fascinating instrumental/electronic flourishes.    

Concert-3:  Juried Concert A

Outrageous!  A totally soused (but brilliant!) soprano calling herself "Steve" (Janet Halfyard) stumbled down several stairsteps to the stage from an emergency exit, still cradling a drink, uttering epithets, cackling and mocking the score that she disdainfully threw aside, page by page, still somehow managing to "sing" the piece. GSOH, for voice and electronics, by Simon Hall (UK), was a wonderfully funny, theatrical surprise to begin the first evening concert! And what piece could follow such a hilarious event? It was Kristine Burns's DVD piece, Liquid Gold, a cool, quietly minimal piece presenting, as she noted, "an abstract distillate of a symbiotic relationship between metallic sounds and… monochromatic synthesized video." This is a beautifully crafted composition.

Next, Neil Flory's CD piece, Imaginary Cities, eloquently recounted its tale of sounds in future cities "filled with activity, technology, danger, and discovery," as his notes described. A virtuosic piece in every sense, Lawrence Fritts's Musicometry I, "To, from, and for Esther Lamneck," for clarinet, live and pre-recorded/processed, presents Ms. Lamneck at her best: the consummate improviser, fast and furiously filling every electric moment with hundreds of notes. What a piece, what a performer!  Punctuation, by Isaac Schankler, for octophonic fixed medium, exploited the sound and sense of words in space, the vocalized words originally recorded by Aleise Barnett.

David Durant's excellent CD piece, Hazeur's Curve, metaphorically takes us to this so-named Mobile, Alabama, street with a cityscape of big, fast, and exaggerated sounds. The Last Castrati, a CD piece by Ricardo Climent (Ireland), is an excellent montage of vocal sounds, transposed and transformed imaginatively. The final work on the concert was Orlando Garcia's piece, Separacion, bravely performed by soprano saxophonist Griffin Campbell, whose sounds were all but subsumed by the tape and who dizzily breathed circularly its long tones amid a wall of recorded saxophone tones and tunings, the most radically unrelenting work of the evening… nay, of the festival so far!   

Concert-4: Juried Concert B

The second day of concerts began mid-morning and opened quietly with a beautiful flute and interactive computer piece, Fluctuation, by Seung Hye Kim (South Korea/USA). The breathy sounds and classic, birdsong-like gestures—reminiscent of classic solo flute pieces by Claude Debussy and Luciano Berio—were sensitively performed by flutist Kyung Lee. Edward Martin's Drift began and ended with noticeable tape hiss, and continued with whooshes and transformed metallic sounds. This was a standard electroacoustic catalog of processes with standard technical language, definitely drifting in and out of my consciousness, as the composer's title metaphor explicated.

Before presenting his piece, Wandering Around the City, Erdem Helvacioglu (Turkey) invited the audience to enjoy a Turkish sweet he had provided for the intermission, a delicious after-taste of the Istanbul soundscape his CD piece provided, smooth cross-fades between city-scenes he had mixed and recorded. (As I remarked to the composer afterwards, I was surprised that his wanderings in Istanful were so smooth, with no sudden shifts or rough edges.) Composer-saxophonist Eric Honour's piece, Didjeriduet, pitted the live, often discontinuous, multiphonic alto saxophone sounds against the recorded/mixed/transposed samples of the folk instrument, the didjeridoo. Neither won the match (sic). 

The second half of the program began with Colby Leider's excellent composition Veritas ex Machina, for percussionist plus real-time electronics, its mostly ringing-metal instruments performed ably by percussionist Matt Sexton. At one point in the piece, Mr. Sexton stomped a foot on the stage floor, at another he uttered something aloud, asserting a human frustration of some kind in this man-versus-machine piece? Singularity, by Mark Ballora, was beautifully performed by flutist Jui-Ghih Agatha Wang, whose idiomatic patternings, sequences, and lyrical episodes were complimented by her electronic, computer counterpart in real time. Slowly Sinking Slower, a DVD piece by Douglas Bielmeier, depicted aural and visual trash heaps—really!

Surging Waves 2, by Shinichiro Toyoda (Japan), for this listener offered an ironic paean to Pope John Paul II, whose funeral mass was that same day; its layers of guitar/computer drones soothed our sensibilities. Paula Matthusen's …of one sinuous spreading…, for piano and computer, was gently performed by Kathryn Woodard on the piano harp, interacting in an improvisatory manner with the composer's computer program which often reversed and sustained the sounds. As in some such improvisatory works, the fascination the composer and performer have for the process can lead to an overlong outcome. The final piece of the concert was Bologna by Paul Thomas, who wrote about his CD piece that, "Simply put, Bologna is a short piece about things being processed on a number of different levels and (on one level) the people who eventually enjoy these things." Huhh?

Concert-5: Electroacoustic Music from the University of North Texas Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia (CEMI) 

The afternoon concert of the second day was curated by Joseph Klein, composer and chair of the Division of Composition Studies in the College of Music, University of North Texas, Denton, presenting recent works composed at CEMI by both faculty and students.  It was a rich, high-caliber sampling. Weathered Edges of Time for CD by Jing Wang (China/USA), skillfully used space and silence to articulate the form and sonic substances of her piece. SYSTASIS, a DVD audio-visual piece by Dave Gedosh, heightened both my visual senses in all the beautifully organic sounds I heard and my aural senses in the images I viewed—a true "systasis," if I understand the word the composer coins.

Joseph Klein's Three Poems from Felt (after Alice Fulton), for electronic sounds and narrator, was recited by Florida poet Lola Haskins. Ms. Haskins's elocution was a bit hard to follow, and there was no printed text provided for the audience; hence, I can only presume that the underplayed richness of the sonic score blended with the sympathies of the poems read so plainly. Jon Nelson, Director of CEMI, could not be present for the performance of his L'Horloge Imaginaire, for octophonic fixed medium. Its pre-composed/diffused clock sounds were precise and fascinating to follow, measuring and counter-measuring the sounds, expertly crafting their ticks and tocks in ensemble.

Composer-dancer-pianist Jonathan Anderson surprised me and certainly most of the audience by dancing with the piano bench to the piano as the tape playback began. Then, he began to play/dance his piece, encounter.dce. I sat transfixed through the rest of this piano/dance melange, a truly sensational experience!  You have to see/hear it to believe! A brief, nicely composed CD piece followed: Kuilas by Gabriel Lit. For the last piece, Chapman Welch's Residual Images, a large, extended-range marimba was wheeled on stage, followed by its performer, Eric Willie. The piece was virtuosic, both in the intricate interplay of patterned arpeggios and the sustained tremolos; its interaction with the computer program made for a lively performance.

Concert-6:  Juried Concert C

Larry Austin's Tableaux: Convolutions on a Theme, for alto saxophone and octophonic computer music, opened the evening concert of the second day. While recusing myself from reviewing my own piece, I will write that saxophonist Stephen Duke, who commissioned the work, was masterful in his presence and playing. He made his part blend with and animate the composer’s convolutions of the performer’s recordings of the composer’s saxophone transcription of Modeste Moussorgsky's Promenade from his Pictures at an Exhibitions.
Sylvia Pengilly's DVD piece, Patterns of Organic Energy, was beautifully composed in every way, its algorithmic cross-synthesis of both sounds and imagery truly representative of the best in this renewed era of the integrated sight-sound genre. In contrast, Clifton Callender's Canon, for electronic player piano, presented an obvious type of programmed prolation canon, where voices combine, as they independently accelerate and/or decelerate.

Dreaming of the Dawn, by Adrian Moore (UK), is a CD piece inspired by Emily Dickinson's poem of the same title. Its busy montage of diversely processed  instrumental sound sources were expertly diffused by Mr. Moore. Next came Trajectories, by Eric Lyon, an octophonic piece whose tennis ball-like timbres bounced around the space, then combined with attractive, chordal sonorities to create a very clear and satisfying spatial listening experience. Ending the first half of the concert was Cort Lippe's Music for Cello and Computer, where what cellist Margaret Schedel performed was at once sensed by the Max/MSP program, then analyzed in various parameters and transformed to join the cello in a musical dialogue, in this case a very detached  encounter.

An intensely loud CD piece, Fractures, by Ronald Keith Parks, ensued after the break (sic) for intermission. To my ears, Mr. Parks achieved his aim of "the creation and exploration of a sound world in which the listener is immersed and sometimes saturated with sounds that embody stress and pressure acting on objects at or near their breaking point." Following was Benjamin Broening's rendition of his work, Nocturne/Doubles, for piano and tape, gently and quite pleasantly exploring live and recorded piano sonorities.

The chemical formula for Adrenaline constitutes the complete title for William Kleinsasser's provocative piece for trombone quartet and interactive computer. According to the notes I wrote during the performance, it was true to its formulation: "Wild and wooly!  Busy, angry, volatile, explosive!!" I loved it!  Black Ice, a CD piece by Robert Dow (UK/USA), is the final work of his extended cycle of works focusing on different types of sonic material, in this case crackling styrofoam and rippling water, noisily combined and overlong. The highlight of the concert was the last piece, Robert Rowe's Cigar Smoke, truly smoking with excitement, interactively performed with Mr. Rowe's computer program by ace clarinetist and Rowe's colleague and collaborator at New York University, Esther Lamneck. 

Concert-7: Juried Concert D

The first concert of the last day began mid-morning with David Kim-Boyle quietly performing his Valses and Etudes, for piano and computer. Interestingly, the composer read his scrolling, algorithmic score directly from his laptop computer screen, which provided a selection of classic works (by Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Frederic Chopin, et al.) for him to excerpt, while the computer quoted other famous piano pieces. Tohm Judson's CD piece, [insert time here], was an attractive but minimal soundscape, and  Mike McFerron's CD piece, ?p?x ≥ h/4π, resounded with continuously evolving piano samples. So Be It, a CD piece by Ragnar Grippe (Sweden), began with assertive hammerstrokes and continued as a kind of retrospective montage of earlier electronic music, granulated in time.
After intermission, we heard Matthew McCabe's well-crafted CD process piece, In the Gloaming. Then, in Tom Lopez's audio/video piece, Underground (video by Nate Pagel), we experienced its audio/video trains moving continuously in cleverly animated sight and sound but ending somehow abruptly. 48 13 N 16 20 O is the title and apparently the geographic coordinates for the CD piece by Tae Hong Park (South Korea/USA), a kind of travel-collage and sound-tour mix of the composer's recorded wanderings about some unnamed city. The last piece, David Taddie's Luminosity, for recorded and live flutes, was performed beautifully by flutist Kyung Mi Lee, highlighting the breathy, sonorous character of the instrument in the classic tradition of Varese's Density 21. Mr. Taddie's luminous images shined long after its too short duration, in this mind's ear.

Concert-8: Electroacoustic Music from Europe

The afternoon concert of the last day was curated by composer Javier Alejandro Garavaglia and was devoted entirely to tape music by composers based in Europe.  Magdelena Buchwald (Poland) entitled her piece, Angorum catena, meaning literally "chain of melancholy," an excellent collection of "non-synthetic," Doppler-shifted noises, combined with diverse sound objects. As the composer Luis Antunes Pena (Portugal) describes Sonorous Landscapes I and II, "in this piece nothing happens." Ironic or not, an expanse of virtually nothing is what we got. L'apparozopme do tre rughe by Roberto Doati (Italy) explores all manner of guitar musics whose recorded samples were provided by guitarist Elena Casoli and were, at length, cast in a montage of different styles.

Yet another sound catalog—fire, this time—was heard next in Feuer-Werk 17 by Thomas Gerwin (Germany).  The quadraphonic …in the opposite direction… by Krzystof Knittel (Poland) was a gibberish stew of pop music out-takes. Finally, Summer Grasses by Hiromi Ishii (Japan/UK) gave us a long, virtually silent first section followed by outbursts of sonic events in the second, followed by a return to virtual silence, all inspired by a Haiku poem by Basho and described by the composer as an experiment in perception, albeit a very personal one, I would say.

Concert-9: Juried Concert E

The program for the evening concert of the third and last day included pieces by nine of the festival's most accomplished practitioners of electroacoustic and computer music, their pieces characteristically mature and accessible for an appreciative audience. Richard Boulanger's tribute to the memory of a recently lost family member, Moving into the Light, was composed for performance by his son, cellist Phillip Boulanger, and by himself as soloist on the computer music instrument, the Radio Baton, along with live video processing by Greg Thompson.  Cast in three continuous movements, this quietly lyrical and harmonious lament demonstrated unequivocally how technology can be used effectively to express deeply held feelings. UK composer Pete Stollery's CD piece, Serendipities and Synchronicities, was also a tribute, in this case to the late Delia Derbyshire of Dr. Who fame (she composed its theme). The piece was short and sweet and full of delightful references to British times and electronic tunes of the 1960s and after. 

Then, clarinetist Esther Lamneck returned to perform Zack Browning's Crack Hammer, a crackerjack combo of computer and clarinetist: it was a fight to the finish, both contestants making me cheer! I didn't quite understand the premise of Paul Koonce's Adolescent Aulos, for the octophonic digital medium. It is the second in a series of pieces exploring the synthetic, timbral properties of the oboe, the composer’s acoustic model for the ancient aulos. Its calls and answers were heard by me as much simpler timbres in what seemed an unfinished compositional experiment. The premiere of Javier Garavaglia's Hoquetas, for tárogató performer Esther Lamneck and computer interaction, suffered an unfortunate false start. Partially recovering, the piece still had fits and starts and apparent problems with its planned, interactive hockets. A pity. I trust we will have the opportunity of hearing the piece properly sometime in the future. 

After the intermission, James Sain's ball peen hammer, for flute and computer, was performed by flutist Cynthia Sain, her flute sounds magnified, transposed, and variously processed by a Max/MSP patch/program provided by composer Ron Parks. Then, we were treated to the multi-sonic/graphic Archimedes: Mathematics II, by James Dashow, with dynamic video animation by Sebastian Cudicio. The sounds and images of this sequence are spectacular, truly "digital multi-art", as Mr. Dashow describes the experience. The piece constitutes Scene 2, Act 2 of his grand planetarium opera, Archimedes,  completed over the last several years. Next came Hubert Howe's Harmonic Fantasy, one of the latest in his continuing series of works exploring additive waveform synthesis, in this case the first 32 harmonic partials, heard successively, singly, and in combination, that process creating the form and substance of his piece.

The last piece of the concert and of the 14th annual FEMF was composed and performed with his portable computer by Composer-in-Residence Morton Subotnick, his Until Spring Revisited. What we heard were patternings in combination and mainly synthesized/processed sounds reminiscent of his earliest pieces, such as the classic Silver Apples of the Moon (1967), The Wild Bull (1968), Touch (1968), Sidewinder (1971), and, of course, Until Spring (1975). The music was attractively accessible and imaginative, as were his two Composer-in-Residence presentations. The first, for his composer colleagues, was aptly enlightening about the origins in the 1960s of his own electronic music, and the second, for a general convocation of university music students, focused on his educational perspectives on "music as metaphor."

Kudos go to Director Sain and his intrepid FEMF associates and staff who more than capably negotiated the audio/visual/performance intricacies of the complex production of this important and very successful festival. I look forward to its 15th incarnation next year!