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Electro-Acoustic Variety

Music from SEAMUS 31 Electronics: Jon Fielder; Maggi Payne; Jon Christopher Nelson; Nina C. Young; Becky Brown; David Q. Nguyen. Aleksander Gabrys, double bass and electronics. Anna Elder, soprano and live processing. Eli Fieldsteel and Kerrith Livengood, electronics. EAM 2022 Total Time: 73: 37 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

The Society for Electro-Acoustic Music of the United States was founded in 1984 and their mission is to provide opportunities for interaction and the increased dissemination of electro-acoustic music. There have been a variety of releases over the years that I have reviewed here on CINEMUSICAL of this avantgarde, and often experimental music which continues to find rich expression. Music of this type is dependent upon some interaction with electronic media and technology. Sometimes these elements are pre-recorded and can have an overlaid “live” performer. They can also include technology that allows one to interact with the electronics as the performance unfolds which frees the music up to specific interpretation and adaptation in each performance. The present collection, released earlier this year, celebrates some of the more recent pieces from the past couple of years (2017-2021) by nine different composers exploring this genre of composition and technique. Most of the pieces are realized by the composers.

The first work, Jon Fielder’s Think (2017) is reminiscent of Cathy Berberian’s experimental work of the 1960s and pieces like her Stripsody or Berio’s linguistic experiments. Here there is a sort of schizophrenic descent depicted through the use of random phrases that are often nonsensical, wordless singing and other vocalizations that are also manipulated in a rather intense opening to the album. Later, Brian Riordan’s Succubus (2020) returns us to the extension of our understanding of vocal technique as he starts with a variety of unprocessed vocal sounds and then puts them through an electronic process that creates whole new backgrounds. It transforms Anna Elder’s performance in a variety of ways and eventually creates multiple loops of her singing. All to connect with the sort of possession of the title character referenced here. Both of these are rather trippy in their own way, with the latter being the stuff of nightmares.

With Heat Shield (2018), Maggi Payne uses a MoogIIIP synthesizer examining white noise, thrumming and other atmospheric sounds that occasionally interact in unusual ways. Douglas McCausland’s Convergence (2020) involves an “augmented” double bass that extends its register and other capabilities while also incorporating bowing and other techniques that play against the tapestry of the electronic material. It is an intense piece which is often quite chilling—like a nightmare of sound that feels like an angry metal/thrash piece. From the same year, “and sometimes wind from the south” is a work by Jon Christopher Nelson that uses a poetic text which is read against changing soundscapes.

It is not uncommon for works of this type to have a visual component and that is somewhat the case in Nina C. Young’s Always and Forever (2020) a sort of brief palette cleanser that brings in more tonal material whose timbres are also manipulated. Sonic Crumbs (2021) is by Eli Fieldsteel and Kerrith Livengood. Here too we are treated to a more tonal and gentle start to something that takes these gestures and then begins to manipulate and loop them in intriguing ways. Becky Brown uses a single word to provide a pivotal connecting theme in her dark parts (2020) that blends noise with other insistent sounds, in particular a bell-like quality. The album closes with Whale Song Stranding (2021) by David Q. Nguyen. Textures are created here too with repeated sounds that are moved across the sound picture. He also plays a bit with silence and how one responds to this element within the aural colors that he creates here.

This collection of electro-acoustic music is obviously not for the faint of heart! Each work provides another reminder at the infinite possibilities and inventiveness that composers can explore in this medium. It is the sort of creative techniques that tend to find their ways into horror genre scoring where more experimental effects and design elements are used to heighten narratives. Releases like this remind us that the application of this approach can have multiple expressions that can be cinematic in their own way. There is certainly an ample amount of music to explore in this often fascinating and diverse collection of electo-acoustic music.


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