Vol. 43 Issue 1 Reviews
Peter Evans and Sam Pluta: Two Live Sets

Digital Download, 2019, available from Carrier Records, www.carrierrecords.com/.

Reviewed by Seth Rozanoff
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Peter Evans and Sam PlutaIn Two Live Sets we hear Peter Evans and Sam Pluta in a duo format that explores a range of electroacoustic dialogues. We hear Evans perform on trumpet, while Pluta performs on a custom-designed laptop instrument. Their dialogue also extends to improvising form and transitional material, similar to a fantasia composition. The duo’s live performance results in a set of variations, which are led or instigated by either player. This ‘back and forth’ exchange develops into a complex textural counterpoint wherein the listener hears a range of thematic musical transformations.

This new release on Carrier Records offers a compact disc containing the duo’s live performance at the De Singer club in Belgium, which will be discussed here. There is also a digital download that includes two others sets, recorded at a performance at Emory University in Atlanta, U.S.A. The opening dialogue between the players in Part I, highlights Pluta’s use of rich electronic palettes of color. He manages the mixing of live sampled material with dense sonic figurations, some of which stem from synthesis techniques constructed using the SuperCollider programming environment. Over three minutes, Pluta performs a long-form gesture, created with smaller sonic components, based on the material at the beginning of the piece. Pluta’s distinctive approach to laptop performance is demonstrated in gestures, like those heard in the introduction. He designs his sound structures in ways that provides opportunities for him to develop phrases in the moment, as it were. This type of skillset, which balances conceptual and practical issues involving software-based musical performance, allows Pluta to not only continue developing his relationship with his laptop, but also with Evans. Initially, Pluta’s performance suggests an interruptive creative strategy. He shapes his use of concentrated, weighty sonic material, to guide a forward-moving musical narrative. Another feature of this musical behavior could be characterized as a process of a gradual separation, wherein Evans’ playing seems to fade into the background. This process of juxtaposition, Evans' sustained ambient sound stream, pitted against Pluta’s foregrounded staccato performance, is a core feature of the duo’s dialogue.

Eventually, Evans fades out, yielding to Pluta’s musical statements. When he re-enters, a new counterpoint begins to take shape where both are heard attempting to interrupt each other. In this section, a third voice also emerges, stemming from Pluta’s real-time capture of Evans’ vocal-like utterances on his trumpet. During this section their interaction sounds less frenetic, as they comfortably interweave their performance against one another.

At approximately six minutes into their set, the duo conclude their exploration of sustained timbres and begin to highlight Evans’ shorter, quasi-melodic phrases, forming a kind of extended instrument. Here, Pluta’s role is more supportive, subtly coloring or enhancing Evans’ playing. At the seven minute mark the music becomes playful, as the electronics serve background duties. Again we hear that electronic voice mentioned earlier, emerging from Evans’ concentrated improvisation. Gradually, Pluta adapts his performance, transforming his timbral range, and reshaping the counterpoint with Evans. Halfway through Part I, amidst the sense of a dynamic, ever-changing performance, small musical fragments are re-introduced, referencing or resembling material heard in the opening. These elastic timbres are now infused with increasingly harsher moments, driving a dramatic build-up that is preceded by a short solo by Evans. As Evans improvises, Pluta re-enters, producing a counterpoint via similar interruptive behaviors heard before, at the beginning of the set. Ultimately, Pluta plays longer, accompanimental gestures that gradually fade in and out.

Overall, the duo sounds like it can seemingly go in any creative direction, which the listener experiences as a sense of unpredictability. Its ability to remain unpredictable may be due in part to either player not having been burdened by identifying who is producing a particular type of sound material. Pluta’s laptop rig bears much responsibility for this. This kind of performative approach demonstrates how players might adjust their ways of communicating and listening in order to develop a cohesive, albeit unpredictable, musical interaction. Evans’ and Pluta’s work together allows for individual spontaneity by encouraging the development of intuitive musical relationships. The results of this type of creative action are also demonstrated in the duo’s ability to move between processes of soloing, accompaniment, juxtaposition, or interruption, during performance. In Part I, Evans’ and Pluta’s sonic palettes, explore a body of densely layered musical shapes via the previously mentioned behaviors.

Part II opens with Evans playing ‘breathy’ sounds that do not reference any distinct pitch material. Pluta then heavily processes these timbres to the point where the trumpet becomes unrecognizable as such. This sample is used later in support of a melodic line, consisting of delicate figurations in the trumpet’s high register, performed by Evans. Pluta, by way of contrast, contributes electronic low register, fog-like sounds, which, at times, seem to agitate Evans. After a three-minute introduction, Pluta mixes in a range of processed sounds that effectively mask Evans’ playing. A new formal section emerges around 4’30”, based on trumpet sounds with Pluta serving an accompanimental role. Evans continues to dominate the texture, performing much more active, capricious figures. Pluta’s supporting music develops as well, layering thinner lines based on trumpet timbres.

Around 8’00”, the musical dialogue is vigorous and maintains a fast pace. The music transforms again, this time into a pointillistic contrapuntal texture. Both players become more synchronized, following one another with much more sparse playing. Then Evans takes the lead and the two gradually separate in a similar way to the opening of Part I. After two minutes of this texture Pluta breaks away, improvising a solo proper. Around 10’30”, Pluta introduces another theme, which Evans abstracts further. This theme is the most lyrical in nature, heard so far on this recording. The next section has less energy but picks back up in intensity at 14’00” as Evans demonstrates his considerable virtuosic skills.

Overall, the duo is skillful at transitioning between sections, shaping form as if it were pre-determined. In a sense, the core mode of behavior in Two Live Sets, is accompaniment, meaning, Evans and Pluta focus their compositional actions during performance on continually exploring antiphonal relationships between one another. Antiphonal, here can also represent as the relationship between live and electroacoustic sound. This relationship is a source of ambiguity relating to the management of their musical dialogue – it is not always clear who is taking the lead. The concluding two minutes of music, finishing Two Live Sets sounds like a coda. Its main feature is a repeating pulse-pattern maintained by Pluta, used as a type of backdrop for Evans. Evans exploits the use of concentrated air sounds. Alongside these two sound streams, Pluta adds embellishments to the pulse, further punctuating, and ultimately signaling the end of the work. Overall, Evans and Pluta’s interaction is dynamic, representing a range of continually changing musical relationships stemming from spontaneous actions and decisions during performance, infused with laptop technology.