CD 1296 (available through SAN)
works by Bruno Bocca, Kemal Günüç, Stephan Dunkelman, Francis Larvor, Pete Stollery and Ben Thigpen
Acousmatica is an inviting compilation of electroacoustic music by six internationally acclaimed composers. Although diverse in musical language, the works on this recording have several sonic and compositional links that help to unify the listener's experience, most notably, their use of electronic feedback and abrupt silences.
The CD begins with Bruno Bocca's Faux Movement , which combines synthesized sounds with processed sampled extended piano techniques and rustling paper. Although the piece draws on French traditions of acousmatic music in its use of close-miked soft sounds, it also suggests historical sonic references to tape rewinding and scientific test oscillators. While many of the individual sound sources are rich with possibilities, Bocca does not realize their full potential for musical treatment. The opening of the piece suffers from an unnaturally stuttering use of dynamics without commensurate timbral change and dynamic spatialization of sound objects. Bocca's irregular phrasing, unexpected shifts in sonic materials and inconclusive ending limits this work's sense of teleology. Perhaps the piece can best be appreciated when it is diffused through multiple loudspeakers.
Touch the headache of the outside of my inside by Kemal Günüç is a seemingly programmatic piece that begins with a reverberant, echoing series of bangs which ultimately give way to highly evocative sustained shimmering textures, buzzy synthesized extended tertian sonorities, and analog-sounding bass licks, all of which reveal the influence of the ambient pop electronic music of Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre. Persistent echo effects, although becoming somewhat tiresome, ultimately build to a powerful dramatic climax that abruptly ends in welcome silence.
The opening of Signallures by Stephane Dunkelman alternates and combines extremely noisy reverberant with completely dry concrète sounds to form a series of short, isolated gestures. The primary sound source, as in the Bocca piece, emanates from a variety of processed piano techniques which, are presented in rapid timbral juxtaposition. As the piece unfolds, the duration of sections of recognizable foreground piano pizzicatti increases as the texture becomes more dense. The process culminates in an intense, nightmarish musical climax that is reminiscent of Xenakis's Metastasis., after which the piece abruptly returns to its more fragmentary origins, with much shorter interjections of pizzicatti highlighted by a clarifying exposure of its sonic relationship to noisier percussion sounds.
Francis Larvor's C'est cassé á l'intérieur is composed of distorted, echoing, electric guitar-like and synthesized sounds. As is often the case with French acousmatic music, strong spatialization enhances richly expressive gestures that are filled with consistently scintillating sonic details. After a striking climax in the first section of the piece, the middle section of the piece becomes a bit static until around 5'30" into the piece when a hair-raising, dry percussive gesture reawakened my attention. The piece gradually returns to the distorted guitar-like feedback material of the opening which, as in the Günüç piece, ends with abrupt silence.
Pete Stollery's Shioum, the title of which is both an onomatopoeia and a type of shellfish found in Morocco, is largely composed of a minute-long sustained electronic feedback which is subjected to gradual spectral transformation. Several short percussive sounds lightly penetrate the foreground level feedback, foreshadowing ideas that later become prominent. After about a minute, the swirling, granular synthesis-like texture recedes to reveal a sequence of repeated metallic filter sweep gestures that take on a motivic function. Throughout the piece, limited spectral bands, whose origins are clearly related to the opening feedback, are revealed and explored individually and in combination and alternation with rapid, noisy percussion gestures. Stollery's work benefits from a musical sense of phrasing as well as from a variety of spatial environments in which the sounds exists, though greater attention to movement of these sounds between and within environments would have been welcome. One of the most beautiful and striking moments of the piece occurs at around 5', when a rapid burst of relatively dry percussion scrapes yields to a gradually-descending, highly-reverberant muted glissando, which is, in turn, interrupted by a brief but intense percussion passage. Shioum, concludes with a varied restatement of the metallic filter sweeps which gradually fade to silence, thus satisfyingly reflecting the completion of its musical journey.
h, by Benjamin Thigpen, is, according to the composer, "based on the interaction between two categories of sounds: the first of which is discontinuous and rhythmically-mechanical, and the second, continuous and quasi-human." What appears to link these disparate sounds is their musical treatment through an increasingly wild undulating pitch contour. The lighthearted, zany rhythmic flexibility of Thigpen's work is highly reminiscent of Morton Subotnick's early electronic pieces, although, Subotnick manages to create more breathing room for the listener.
While most of the pieces on this collection kept my attention in terms of their sonic detail, I found Stollery's Shioum and Dunkleman's Signallure to be the most well-crafted in terms of their compositional focus.
Howard Frederics is a composer and teacher of composition based at Texas A & M University.