Vol. 35 Issue 3 Reviews

CDCM Computer Music Series Volume 38: Music from Bowling Green State University, MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music

Music by Burton Beerman, Gregory Cornelius, Shane Hoose, Mikel Kuehn, Elaine Lillios, Marilyn Shrude, Michael Thompson and Dan Tramte.

Compact disc, 2010, Centaur Records CRC 3081; available from Centaur Records, Inc., 136 St. Joseph Street, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70802, USA; telephone (+1) 225.336.4877; fax (+1) 225.336.9678; electronic mail info@centaurrecords; web www.centaurrecords.com/.

Reviewed by Jim Phelps     
DeKalb, Illinois, USA

CDCM Vol.38 CoverWith Centaur’s release of CDCM  (Consortium to Distribute Computer Music) Volume 38 , featuring music from Bowling Green State University's MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music, we celebrate two notable anniversaries: the approaching 25th birthday of the Consortium itself, and the 80th birthday of CDCM's founder, Larry Austin.  Also worthy of reflection is that soon, 45 years will have passed since the first volume of SOURCE: Music of the Avant Garde was published.  Even a cursory, retrospective glance over the history of these two chronicles suggests we have much to be thankful for. It's easy to view CDCM as a translation, if you will, into the 1980s and beyond, of the vision that founded SOURCE in 1966.  Both represent the most prominent chronicles of new music of their day, and both were founded by Mr. Austin.  SOURCE's oeuvre is complete, but CDCM's is not, and neither are the spirit and vision that founded them both.

Since this music comes from a Center dedicated to contemporary music, it seems fitting to begin such a review by first paying tribute to the composer whose music appears to best "rhyme" with the current date on the calendar— Dan Tramte. He is represented on this compact disc by three short pieces, the longest of which is 1' 35".   These works grew out of a request from a percussionist to provide fixed-media pieces to "fill the void" (description used in the liner notes) between percussion works during setup from one piece to another. With some, perhaps poetic, interpretation, this appears to reflect a contemporary condition whereby the ostensibly pragmatic, and potentially perfunctory, th ough creative opportunism becomes singularly and separately artful in its own right. More obviously, the brevity and succinctness of expression mirrors a contemporary trait, or need, to cater to shorter attention spans as more and more is demanded of our attention from media of various types. From this collection, titled Gluons, Boson, Graviton, and Electron appear on this compact disc. These three youthful, sprite, and energetic works spend no more time than needed to say what needs to be said. This latter attribute is a welcome feature in today's often anachronistically verbose artistic world.

When a composer is given the opportunity to work with or compose for a performer who is internationally recognized for his or her masterful and artful renderings, that composer can rightfully consider herself or himself very fortunate. Here, soprano saxophonist Stephen Duke is this performer, and Elainie Lillios is the fortunate composer. As usual with Mr. Duke's performances, this recording illustrates his subtle brush strokes and consummate artistry. It is impossible not to be drawn deeply into the piece's own personal, intimate life. The notes provided on the compact disc for this works's raison d'être very properly describe the listening experience: "[exploring] the vague continuum between reality and imagination, consciousness and dreaming. Mr. Duke accepted and championed the challenge of performing the once obligatory key-slaps and non-pitched "breathing through the instrument" figures, while mitigating the act of recognition by an experienced listener. Several pieces have been inspired by Wallace Stevens'  Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, including works by Luk as Foss and Louise T alma. Ms. Lillios Veiled Resonances was also inspired by the Stevens work and won first prize in the 2009 Concours Internationale de Bourges.
      Burton Beerman is both composer and performer for Dayscapes, a three-movement work for clarinet and live, interactive electroacoustic sound.
Even if no other piece on this compact disc were to be found enjoyable by some listener (very doubtful), this piece alone surely would be found to be worth the "price of admission." It is with gratitude that one only finds technical  information supplied in the liner notes for this piece.  The imagination is, thereby, free to roam and join the virtuosic exploration of many spaces, characters, and personalities, free to look about and sample the riches of a tasty, poignant variety such as one might experience while taking in a circus. The performance is indeed virtuosic but never simply for the sake of performance virtuosity. The more important virtuosity here is that summoned from the colorful painting of events, and those participants within.  Surely this would be one of those rare pieces that remained in memory as one left the concert hall after hearing this piece performed live, amongst other works in a typical multi-composer event.

Gregory Cornelius' Earth and Green, fittingly sharing its title with Mark Rothko’s 1955 painting, elicits such a response as: “A aah, were it so that all electroacoustic works would be conceived and constructed so thoughtfully and artfully!”  It is as if Mr. Cornelius explicates, carefully and with his own thoughtful interpretation of the precision required, possible implied relationships between the two main features of the Rothko work.  The composer chose to realize his piece by juxtaposing non-pitched organic sounds with pitched sounds created using acoustic instruments, in this case represented by sonic materials played inside a piano. The audio production of the piece is pristine, effectively stripping, or evading, any "home space" that may have been inherent in the materials themselves. This affords the opportunity to examine the sonic materials in a more or less abstract manner. Our attention is not distracted by the environment of the materials, so we are able to concentrate on the inner features of the materials themselves, an unencumbered listening to the micro-worlds of these components and the relationships between them.

Marilyn Shrude's Trope, presented in this version as a piece for acoustic and
pre-recorded alto saxophones (performed by James Fusik, Jeffrey Heisler, and John Sampen), uses as its source material the civil rights protest song, We Shall Overcome.  Given that the premiere of this piece, albeit in a different incarnation with only alto saxophone and piano, was presented at a concert titled "Voices of Dissent" at Bowling Green State University in 2007, one might be forgiven for assuming that the optimism and pathos of the original work would significantly serve this version .  After listening to this piece, it is rather difficult to ascertain whether "we have overcome" or not.  Therein lies the mystery of this work . There is a somber air throughout, while the instruments gradually join one another as if participating in a conversation where occasionally one person's words overlap another's. These voices collectively thicken and culminate in a saxophonic wall of sound that resembles an organ patch. Throughout the piece, a tension is present as closely-spaced intervals cause difference-tone beating. The voices drift toward a unison at the very end.  This is a strikingly careful, well-studied expression of a very complex real-world situation, a struggle perhaps experiencing some measure of victory, with cautious optimism toward the future.

Chiaroscuro, for violoncello (performed by Craig Hultgren) and electroacoustic sound, was inspired by the painting technique known by the same name.  Composer Mikel Kuehn uses both percussive and pitched sounds created by the cello to create a pallette that is subsequently "shaded, highlighted, and exaggerated" (liner notes) by the electroacoustic elements.  This is a rich piece that demonstrates a wide variety of cello techniques and tonal variation. Perhaps the perception of the chiaroscuro effect is slightly distracted by a plethora of neo-1970s gestures, so strongly suggesting their own native context, though these are exquisitely and profoundly performed by the performer.

Michael Thompson's electroacoustic piece Derailed is a blistering "trainscape" (my word, not his) of train and train station sounds that are revealed here through a different set of eyes and ears. This piece appears, fittingly, as the final offering on the compact disc, and is a fine closer. This is a superbly crafted, poetry-imbued storm.

In the service of creating Balance, both the stated creative goal and the title of this piece for percussion (performed by Roger B. Schupp) and electroacoustic music, composer Shane Hoose explores diverse features of both the acoustic and electroacoustic components as if they comprise, in sum, a rather unstable, unsure entity whereby many personalities seem to vie for dominance.  A powerful piece, both psychologically and sonically, Balance contends with a "peace" among materials and components, brought into existence through rather costly means: strife and drama. No individual components remain unchanged through the experience.

While enjoying CDCM Vol. 38, and celebrating CDCM's continued service to the art world, we can anticipate Vol. 39.  The next volume from CDCM will feature works from University of North Texas' Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia, one of the founding member institutions of the Consortium.