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Not Just Noise...

Personal Noise Sarah Plum, violin. Yvonne Lam, violin. Blue Griffin Records 619 Total Time: 65:18 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

Sarah Plum currently is on the faculty of the Music Institute of Chicago, but it was while she was Professor of Violin and Viola at Drake University (2007-2018) where many of the works on this new release had their start. Plum focuses on music that connects electronic composition with acoustic performance and the commissions she has sponsored feature a variety of approaches to this combination.

Personal Noise is a collection of seven pieces for solo violin and electronics or fixed media. The opening work, Obey Your Thirst (2014), by Eric Moe features an almost caprice-like feel with a host of technical passages that are chased about by the electronic elements. The final moments feature some quite stunning sustained playing requirements. This sense of ideas flying through textures is a common element in the way the accompaniment ideas are integrated into these works.

The album takes its title from a work for solo violin by Eric Lyon from 2015. Lyon uses a small motivic pattern to create a unity in the piece. The music feels a bit more tonally centered as a result though the angular writing does move the music to a more atonal feel from time to time. There are also intentional Bartokian echoes. Kyong Mee Choi’s Flowering Dandelion (2020) is a contemporary take on quotation music using the slow movement of Bach’s Violin Sonata in b as a source for her musical imagery. Works like Sarahal (2013) by Mari Kimuraare taking another approach to writing for violin. This time the work is for two violins and electronics and Kimura stretches virtuosic requirements with a host of techniques for the soloists. This is surrounded by ambient electronics. The music opening has a sort of lifting quality, a sort of modernized Romantic sensibility, that is then expanded upon as the piece progresses.

Another contemporary technique of avantgarde composition is the exploration of interactive media which can be heard in the Kimura work, but it can also include prerecorded ideas that are then played back in a live performance. That is the intent in Jeff Herriott’s after time: a resolution (2013). The same is explored in a rather unique way as well in Il Prete Rosso (2014) by Charles Nichols. Here he employs a motion sensor which is attached to the bow arm of the violinist. Their movements then create additional reactive sounds from the computer which are unique to that performance. The final work, Full Moon (2008) by Mari Takano is inspired by contemporary pop music and ballet. It also uses processed samples and blends electronic and acoustic sounds.

There is no doubt from the performances here that Sarah Plum is a superb, technically-accomplished performer. Very often the passagework here feels like an extended etude with requirements that move across the instrument’s range and require a variety of different techniques. The shift of dynamic range is also important and handled well here too. When things slow down, one can get a glimpse of her innate lyrical style as well. The electronic effects and approaches all provide a more unusual backdrop against these solo lines then that add a sense of dramatic flair. The titles give listeners a sense of what might be threads to follow along the way. Most all the pieces here run about 10 minutes in length which is a good amount of time for what they intend to accomplish. There is still a fascinating diversity in the sound and resulting pieces here. The different applications of musical echoes from violin literature that are sprinkled into some of the pieces are also helpful as they move the piece into a more readily accessible sound.

The sound of the recording also really aids the music as well. The violin is front and center in the sound picture while the other sounds percolate across the stereo imaging quite well. This is quite intriguing for the more ambient and enhanced electronic accompaniments. While Personal Noise is not going to be for everyone, the pieces tend to be compelling enough, and solid works, to draw the listener in and encourage them to continue on this journey.


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