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Frantic Mid-Atlantic

Evelyn Ficarra

SCD 28026 (available from SAN)

ix 1999

Evelyn Ficarra's new CD displays her love of white noise, of fragments, and abruption as well as her ability to create complex and dynamically transforming textures which hold the listener's attention over time. This first release of the composer's works includes three solo electroacoustic pieces as well as works for various instrumental combinations and tape.

The first work, SEARCH (1997) is a short, evocative sound journey include string septet and voice with the music theatre group Gogmagogs performing. It begins with continuous layerings of variously filtered noise streams. Fragments of sung male voice, string fragments, and short wave-like bursts of noise intersperse themselves in a sensitive weave. String glisses, pizzicati, cricket-like textures are eventually imitated by a repetitive rocking string hocket that builds up to a point of almost obliterating the background noise, but then dies away slowly. What remains is a high-pitched noise layer when gradually descends as it disappears.

THOSE ROADS (1994) is a solo tape work, with vocal fragments of Alwyne Pritchard included. It is the soundtrack for a sound/image collaboration between the composer and filmmaker Suse Bohse. The composer writes that is based on the notion of combining "an interplay between different kinds of listening" — one filmic and narrative and the other more abstract. I hear the piece as a journey to and from a woman’s inner experience, passions and fantasies, framed by the everyday sounds of her outer life. The piece opens with various sounds suggesting a domestic environment - - paper being crumpled, an old-fashioned typewriter, a vacuum cleaner — and most important, a woman pleasantly humming as if to herself. This section passes into the interior portion of the work where the voice is treated is a more abstract way, with repetitive loops building up rich layers of sound. Operatic singing, vocalise, white noise, intense reverberation of the vocal mix give way then to the outer framing section where we are returned to humming and domestic sounds. The humming contextualizes the other ambient sounds - vacuum cleaner, typewriter, etc. - providing a narrative focus which establishes the frame which in film is provided by the image.

PLUS ÇA CHANGE (1991, revised 1998) is scored for marimba, violin and tape. This complex and satisfying work begins with a tentative duet, with filtered noise in breath-like exhalations on tape answered by the increasingly passionate and rubato marimba part. By this time, the tape part has become an ongoing noise layer, evoking wind and water, upon which the violin solo soars. The two instruments then dialogue, their atonal lines in free counterpoint. Gradually, both the tape and instrumental portions emphasize more reiterative and fragmentary gestures. Processed bow -bouncing- on -string becomes a dominant tape gesture. Gradually the tape portion disappears allowing a spirited unison duet between the instruments to emerge. When the tape portion re-enters in a short coda, it includes a rich variety of processed instrumental sounds, accompanied by fragmentary instrumental gestures.

In PLUS ÇA CHANGE the effluvial white noise background used in part of the piece provides a kind of frame which functions sonically to mask the foreground sounds somewhat while contributing a dream-like atmosphere to those sections where it is included. The ongoing instrumental music seems captured in amber against its monolithic presence.

SOURCE OF UNCERTAINTY-MODEL 266, named after the Buchla synthesizer upon which Ms. Ficarra composed the work, is a spirited and dynamic work for tape. A high thin tone counterposed with abrupt percussive iterations interact to eventually merge in rapidly shifting masses of sound, displaying the rich and volatile ring and amplitude modulation which the Buchla performs (produces?) so well. The energetic pacing of the piece is maintained throughout and satisfyingly ends in a dissolve.

DEUCE (1993), for baroque flute, harpsichord and tape, commences with a staccato fusillade of notes from both instruments. Flute ‘fire’ and more insistent and larger harpsichord clusters then careen precipitously into a solo tape portion for bouncing ball. The staccato ball sounds are variously echoed and looped during this central section until the instruments rejoin the texture, now assisted by (among other sounds) processed bouncing harpsichord. The percussive quality of the instruments is emphasised throughout with violent and poly-rhythmic juxtapositions of dense harpsichord clusters and their processed counterparts accompanied by wildly skittering flute. The gradual ritard and dissolution of the texture is quite effective.

FRANTIC MID-ATLANTIC (1995), the signature piece of the album, focuses on ‘refrains’ of thickly layered and richly coloured noise interleaved with ‘choruses’ of sampled radio broadcasts. News, weather, business and talk-show excerpts are employed along with excerpts from the O.J. Simpson trial in these sections. The Simpson excerpts, which are presented in successive fragments feature a Spanish-speaking woman who was employed in his home being interrogated with a succeeding English translation. The mix of materials throughout the piece veers between the banal, the humorous, the horrific and the mysterious.

This satisfying CD showcases Ms. Ficarra's considerable compositional talents and is a welcome addition to the recorded instrumental/electro-acoustic music now commercially available.

Sargasso Records
P.O. Box 10565 LONDON N1 8SR

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