MARY LEE ROBERTS: 6 COMPOSITIONS
(Open Space CD 9; Open Space; 29 Sycamore Drive; Red Hook, NY 12571, USA http://www.the-open-space.org)
Mary Lee Roberts is a composer whose work is grounded in a love of nature and an interest in psychological process. This new CD of hers contains five computer pieces, and one chamber work for instruments and voice. Some of the computer work is narrative, in an oblique sort of way, and some of it is abstract. An example of the narrative work is Eusebio Consumed, which deals with an imaginary analysis by Sigmund Freud of Schumann's Eusebius! Granular textures, harmonic and inharmonic spectra, slowed down voices and music boxes follow each other with an almost impressionist sense of harmony and structure. Even without the programmatic context, it's a solid piece - with it, the sounds have a richer environment to resonate in. Things Fall Apart is a piece that pulls apart a vocal sound, juxtaposing granulation, long time-stretches, digital clicks, etc. to produce a haunting sense of a voice being gradually disembodied. Many of the pieces feature textures of inharmonic partials which have a kind of disturbing rumble underneath them - I was especially struck by this in Winter Cranes. Crossing the Salmon, a setting of a text Roberts wrote while in the Salmon River country of central Idaho, is a lovely dialogue between a soprano and an instrumental ensemble. Although there are similarities between this work and the computer works (in ideas of timbral matching, harmonic choice, etc.) what impresses me most is the sheer difference in sound between Roberts' computer work and her instrumental writing. It's as if the works came from two different worlds, and maybe (as more and more of us involved in computer music have less and less to do with the world of classical music performance) they do. White Writing, Roberts' most recent work on the CD, uses a varied pallette - lush drone-like textures alternate with what sound like short wave sounds and the voices of some favourite late-night radio talk show hosts. Roberts is a composer whose work is well worth getting to know, and while you're at it, you might check out the other CD, book, and magazine releases from Open Space, the brainchild of Benjamin Boretz. It's got some of the most intellectually challenging writing and thinking about music around.
(this review was first published in Chroma)