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Anne LeBaron — The Musical Railism of Anne LeBaron (1995)

… Salt and Honeybees…

Anne LeBaron — The Musical Railism of Anne LeBaron
Mode Records [MODE 42], 1995

Anne LeBaron is a Los Angeles-based experimentalist who is an innovative performer on the harp as well as a composer embracing unusual challenges. Her compositions have been performed around the globe. Venues in Italy, Mexico, Sydney, Vienna, Sweden, Kazakhstan, New York, Los Angeles, Italy and elsewhere have programmed her works for chamber ensemble, orchestra, opera and chorus, and have presented her as a performer. Major awards she has received include the Alpert Award in the Arts, a Fromm Foundation commission, a Guggenheim, a Fulbright and NEA grants. Her operas celebrate legendary female figures, such as Marie Laveau in Crescent City. She is currently completing LSD: Huxley’s Last Trip, an opera that includes many of the instruments built by Harry Partch. Her newest opera-in-progress, This Lingering Life, examines the notion of karma, with a libretto by Mark Campbell and Chiori Miyagawa. LeBaron teaches in the Experimental Sound Practices and Composition Program at CalArts. [2022]

Anne LeBaron’s 1995 CD release The Musical Railism of Anne LeBaron is an exploration of the musical extremes which the composer says characterized her upbringing in the south of the United States, filled with “Salt and honeybees, seething oceans and Southern trains… delicacy and harshness… rough and uneven congregational singing… intricate bluegrass plucking.” This is not a disc for purists, whether they be of the electroacoustic, concert music or blues persuasion, or perhaps only part for each. It is full of surprises, sometimes pleasant, sometimes challenging, always interesting.

Several selections are included from LeBaron’s The E & O Line (1993), an electronic blues opera that reinterprets the Orpheus and Eurydice legend from the latter’s point of view. It is set in a 1920s sugarcane-cutting work camp in the Mississippi delta, with a juke joint and abandoned train terminal. While the instrumental parts seem to fit more or less in the blues tradition with intermittent electroacoustic extensions and interventions, the vocals morph constantly between blues melisma, operatic arias and contemporary extended vocal techniques.

Two works for conventional concert instruments are included: Waltz for Quintet (1989), scored for flute, violin, viola, cello and piano, is the second movement of the four-movement Telluris Theoria Sacra (Sacred Theory of the Earth); The Sea and the Honeycomb, written in 1979 for soprano, flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, two percussions and piano, is a setting of a poem by Antonio Machado.

Audio 1 (13:59). Anne LeBaron — I Am an American… My Government Will Reward You (1988), for harp, fixed media and live electronics.

LeBaron also includes two works for harp. Dog-Gone Cat Act (1995) is for prepared harp (paper and alligator clips), a transcription of a solo improvisation from 1982. The most challenging, disturbing (and sometimes delicate), and to me the most interesting piece on the CD is I Am an American… My Government Will Reward You. It was originally written in 1988 for amplified harp with real-time electronics and tape (Audio 1), then revised in 1994 for electric harp. Beginning with a somewhat distorted excerpt of America the Beautiful, it integrates such sounds sources as chopper blades, airplane crashes, trains, synthesized sounds, bell tones, harp and vocal melodies based on hymns, and a short vocal line reciting the words from a blood chit carried by US military flight crews to enlist the aid of foreign nationals. It is dedicated to “the many selfless and compassionate souls on foreign soil, who suffered as a result of helping Americans escape from hostile territory.”

Delicacy and harshness, indeed.

January 1998


Andra McCartney (left) enjoying a laugh with Hildegard Westerkamp in 1997. | [Click image to enlarge]

Soundscape artist Andra McCartney (1955–2019) created multimedia works, audio postcards, radio art and works for dance. Born in Fleetwood, near Liverpool (United Kingdom), she lived in several other British ports before moving to Canada with her immediate family in 1968: her daughter was born in 1979, her son in 1980. She received a BA in Cultural Studies from Trent University (1983) and an MA in Adult Education from St. Francis Xavier University (1990) before completing her PhD in Music with a dissertation on the work of Hildegard Westerkamp at York University (1999). While living in Toronto, Andra co-hosted Auditory Transitory (CIUT Toronto 89.5), a weekly radio show devoted to soundscape composition and radio art. She lived in several parts of Ontario and northern Canada, moving to Montréal in 1999, where she taught Sound in Media for the Communication Studies department at Concordia University. McCartney has acted as a board member of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC) and the Canadian Association for Sound Ecology (CASE). [2022]

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