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New Electro-Acoustic Sounds from SEAMUS

Music from Seamus 32 Molly Hodson, voice/flute/piano; Sarah Plum, violin; John Perry, percussion; Shanna Pranaitis, alto flute; Justin Snyder, piano; Justin Massey, baritone saxophone. Electronics: Kristopher Bendrick, Kyong Mee Choi, Adam Mirza, Lisa Renee Coons, Robert McClure, Carolyn Borcherding, Eli Stine. EAM 2023 Total Time: 70:08 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

The latest release from the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music of the United States, founded in 1984, features music from seven of their current composer members. The organization’s mission is to provide opportunities for interaction and the increased dissemination of electro-acoustic music. Previous releases have been reviewed here and at the previous CINEMUSICAL site. The music has an 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. SEAMUS 32 features pieces created between 2018-2022). Almost all pit a traditional acoustic instrument against electronic design and textural elements as well as unique compositional approaches.

The First and Second Commission Prize pieces are featured on this release. The former, progressively smaller TVs (2019) is by composer Kristopher Bendrick. The work is a strange blend of vocalizes and spoken poetic lines (from “Arrested Saturday Night” by Stephen Dobyns), piano, flute and electronics. Each of these components are presented in direct as well as through manipulated techniques of sound. There is also some interesting imitation here. The work is a curious blend of Sprechstimme with a sort of Crumb-like exploration of sounds. The Second Commission Prize work is Carolyn Borcherding’s Life is (2018) which explores a specific harmonic element as a primary motive that is then manipulated and blended together across the work in quite fascinating ways. The baritone saxophone has these really gorgeous lyric lines that float above a magical harmonic backdrop in what is perhaps the most accessible of the works on the album.

In Flowering Dandelion (2020), composer Kyong Mee Choi uses a Bach violin sonata as a departure point. The threads and lines from that work are layered against a variety of electronics that further stretch that sound of these violin moments and add additional textural components that seem to slowly spiral outward. Adam Mirza’s Snared, Wired, Crashed (2020) is an example of the sort of interactive electronic setups that allow direct feedback of what a performer is doing in real time—in this case a percussionist. Here the soloist must serve both as performer and engineer with foot pedals that control feedback and other intensities of sound. (The piece is quite effective, but perhaps more so live where one can see the subtleties of what is done to create these sounds.) Found elements, including repeated textual overlays, are incorporated into Chimera’s Garden (2022) alongside an alto flute (with contemporary sounds employed here too) in Lisa Renee Coons’ work. Here a variety of textural ideas are projected across the soundscape with the acoustic line floating through and within them. In bloom (2021), Robert McClure takes inspiration from nature as well, here a jellyfish bloom. It opens with a bit of skittery sound and a sort of Impressionistic series of piano scales and harmonic ideas that explores the range of the piano against a variety of sound ideas. The music has a quite fascinating blend of early 20th- Century style that shift within the electronic shimmering that eventually appears. The collection concludes with a bit of natural world environmental sounds in Where Water Meets Memory (2021) by Eli Stine. Here the textures include recorded oyster reefs along with sampled instruments and other ambisonics sounds that create a sort of mesmerizing, transportive soundscape.

As one might suspect, these are all quite fascinating explorations of electronic composition that serve to create soundscapes that can transport the listener. There is a fascinating diversity of approaches here that serves to highlight the possibilities of integrative electronics and acoustic music making. The album is also well-sequenced which makes even the more avant-garde works sit well against their surrounding pieces as we move from more dissonant to more tonal expressions. While not really for “casual” listening, those interested in developments and composition of this type should certainly seek this release, and the previous ones in SEAMUS’ series, out.


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