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Astonishing Sense (of being taken over by something greater than me)


(earsay es 98003 - earsay productions; #308 - 720 Sixth St.; New Westminster, BC Canada V3l 3CS

New Zealander Susan Frykberg spent many years in Vancouver before returning to New Zealand. Her work includes, in her words, "a number of "environments" in which stories (often mythological) of women's lives are the "context" for her music." This is true of all the works on this CD, and gives it a unique conceptual flavour. That is, this CD can be listened to for its narrative content, or it can be listened to for its sonic qualities (her command of granular synthesis and other techniques is impressive), or for the interaction of the two. As well, the CD is a showcase for two of the best extended-vocals performers on the North American West Coast - Kate Hammett-Vaughan and DB Boyko. Mother Too, the opening work, is a tour de force for Hammett-Vaughan, whose exceptional multiphonics were the highlight of the piece for me. Insect Life is another piece for voice and tape. In this piece, Frykberg has the vocalist attempt to match environmental sounds. DB Boyko's performance here is rivetting. Birth / Rebirth Bearing Me is more of a pure computer piece. Granular synthesis is used to deconstruct Frykberg's own voice speaking the phrase Born in Hastings. The textures are quite engaging - it's clearly granular synthesis being used, but I never got the sense that I was listening to a technological cliche. The most serious parts of the CD are three pieces from Frykberg's ongoing Audio Birth Project, where she interviews hersisters and her mother on the process of giving birth. The pieces on this CD are Margaret, for tape alone; Astonishing Sense of Being Taken Over by Something Far Greater Than Me for violin and tape (Margaret's voice again forms the basis for part of the tape part); and I Didn't Think Much About It for piano and tape, and featuring the voice of Frykberg's mother Pat. The violin part in Astonishing Sense is lovely. Superbly played by Nancy di Novo, it emerges from sonic textures, and soars above them. It's a very Romantic piece - its honestly emotional and heartfelt, without using conservative forms or idioms. Andrew Czink's piano playing in I Didn't Think Much About It is also impressive. He matches the quality of the fragmented granular textures on the tape with the greatest of ease. I found the three pieces from the Audio Birth Project on this CD to be musically intriguing and emotionally satisfying, and I look forward to more. The CD concludes on a lighter note - the trans-continental Sue and Kathy Telecompose Across the Country, a piece composed on, or maybe that should be, in spite of, the Internet with Montreal composer Kathy Kennedy. There are recordings of Frykberg and Kennedy's voices in the piece, as well as them being played (in a radio-drama sense) by DB Boyko and Kate Hammett-Vaughan. Machine sounds, fax sounds, printer sounds, and texts that lament the technical difficulties of working with the funky and inadequate early Internet form the substance of the piece. I got many a knowing chuckle out of this piece. Frykberg is a talented composer and a great story-teller. I look forward to more of her work.

(this review was first published in Chroma)

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