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In Review

i 1998

Wende Bartley
(p) DIFFUSION i MéDIA 1994 IMED 9414 (1994)

Claire-Voie brings together four electroacoustic pieces by Wende Bartley, composed between 1985-1993. The work is characterized by Bartley's dense texturing of instrumental, vocal, and recorded environmental sounds, as well as her exploration of the performing potential of the female voice. It is powerful and evocative work.

Ellipsis(1989-93, 14:31) is a work for female singer and tape. Sung by mezzo-soprano Fides Krucker, this piece explores extended vocal techniques such as multiphonics, glottal stops and vocal fry, in a tripartite structure associated with the lunar phases and chronicling a three-fold story of women's collective unconscious, which Bartley terms "The Age of Darkness, Creating a New Space, and The Age of Resonance." (see also Hannah Bosma's description of the piece in 1995 International Computer Music Conference Proceedings, pp. 141-2).

The second piece, Rising Tides of Generations Lost (1985-93, 15:01), is my current favourite on the CD. It starts with whispered vowels, consonants, and syllables, moving through to spoken words and finally longer phrases that are almost buried, yet rise again through the fires that tortured and silenced women. In her description of the piece, Bartley quotes American novelist Kate Chopin: "this 'beginning of things' is 'vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning. How many souls perish in its tumult.'" Disturbing as it is, I always feel hopeful and energized as strong voices emerge clearly at the end.

Ocean of Ages Revealed (1991, 13:21) explores the gestures of Balkan vocal music, as well as other sources, through the PODX granular synthesis system developed by Barry Truax at Simon Fraser University. This process allows composers to expand and stretch the sounds to reveal microscopic shifts and changes in a slow-moving tapestry. The piece is based on a visual image by Susan Griffin, in which we travel into the darkness of a cave, seeing images of another time etched into the walls.

The last piece, Icebreak (1992, 14:22) evokes the world of ice melting, dissolving and transforming into water, moving through "states of rupture, isolation, introspection, passion, and infusion." It is made of textures created from short improvisations on instruments from the Kyai Madu Sari, the Javanese court-style gamelan. The textures form rhythmic and melodic streams that echo through sound-space.

I find in Bartley's music a source of spiritual energy and feminist consciousness that is matched by musical and technical diversity and depth. I listen to this CD often.

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