From the Archives
Composer and electronic musician Tod Dockstader died in 2015 and dementia truncated his work in the electronic studio even before that. However, he left behind over 4200 unreleased sound files. Justin H. Brierley has compiled the best of these into a selection of pieces From the Archives that Starkland has released on CD.
The collection is compelling. It is clear that Dockstader’s remaining work wasn’t unfinished snippets. Rather, these are compositions that gel seamlessly, like the sonorous Super Choral and ceremonially percussive Chinese Morf. While many of these pieces seem deadly in earnest, elsewhere there is also the characteristic playfulness with sound for which Dockstader is well known. I’m particularly fond of the layering of bells, unpitched percussion, creaking steps, and static bursts on Anat Fort and the thrumming and scraping of Big Jig; Mystery Creak and Creak Creek further this exploration of electroacoustic sounds at play. Todt 1 and Todt 2 work with shimmering overtones and what sounds like rockets preparing for liftoff. Piano Morf is the most epic-scaled of the included pieces and features a plethora of sounds, both pianistic and fantastic in inspiration. All in all, it proves to be a most suitable valediction for an imaginative creator. From the Archives suggests that even Dockstader’s backup files are well worth taking to heart.
Jenny Olivia Johnson
Don’t Look Back
Innova Recordings CD 925
Wellesley professor Jenny Olivia Johnson presents a program of synth-inflected songs on Don’t Look Back, her debut recording for the Innova imprint. Like many good indie classical songwriters, her formula combines beautiful sounds with stark lyrics: I like to think of it as the “Corey Dargel effect.” Very fine interpreters sing the songs: Megan Schubert, P. Lucy McVeigh, and Amanda Crider. Johnson’s performances as percussionist and electronic musician are seamlessly melded with instrumental contributions by some of the luminaries from the current indie classical scene: violinist Todd Reynolds, cellist Peter Gregson, flutist Jessica Schmitz, clarinetist Eileen Mack, and pianist Isabelle O’Connell among them. Conductor Nathaniel Berman leads the ensemble in assured renditions of the material. While plenty of composers are reveling in the electro-acoustic playground, there aren’t too many that have the orchestrator’s ear and sense of pacing possessed by Johnson. Recommended.
Musik mit Musik
Nadar Ensemble, Daan Janssens, conductor; Ensemble LUX:NM; Ensemble Mosaik; Ensemble Modern, Johannes Kalitzke, conductor
Johannes Kreidler’s music is Darmstadt’s most persuasive response yet to hip hop’s sample and mixing DJ. On his in hyper intervals, snatches of voices and backbeat percussion intersect with aphoristic interludes of violin, piano, and clarinet from the Nadar Ensemble. Cache Surrealism takes a similar approach. Female voices in an R&B sample gain the lead, but the instruments seem to “fight back” with greater intensity from the get-go, occasionally banishing the samples from the soundstage. In addition to the sampling of voices, there is a substantial keyboard part and synthetic components with which the ensemble contends. The group here, from Ensemble LUX:NM, is a baritone saxophone, accordion, and cello. Having the accordion as part of the ensemble creates some interesting textures that refract against the samples. The drums reappear on Fremdarbeit, this time live from percussionist Roland Neffe. Here there is also a live keyboard to add an in person layer of synthesis to the proceedings. Meanwhile, Ensemble Mosaic’s flutist Bettina Junge and cellist Mathis Mayr interrupt with single notes and digressive lines. Product Placements is a short solo for electronics that jitters its way through various sampling techniques.
The disc’s finale, Living in a Box, pits Kreidler’s sampler against more substantial forces: the Ensemble Modern. The principle is still the same: fragmentary samples and skittering percussion are juxtaposed with instrumental interjections. Here, however, the instrumental component is writ large, making the potential for different live groupings exponentially greater. When Kreidler’s most verbose synthetic cut-ups combine with tutti passages, the results sound thrilling. Certainly not a release for the “decaf only” listener, Kreidler is instead a hyperkinetic force with which to be reckoned.
On Thursday, June 25th at 7:00 PM, violinist Sarah Plum plays a concert at Spectrum (121 Ludlow Street, NYC). Tickets are $15 ($10 for students and seniors) and are available at the door.
Plum, a new music specialist, has two CDs coming out on July 14th, both on the Blue Griffin imprint. On the first, joined by Timothy Lovelace, she presents the first volume in a projected series of music for violin and piano by Béla Bartók. The second is a CD of new music, concertos by Sidney Corbett and Christopher Adler.
On her gig at Spectrum, Plum plays works by both of the aforementioned living composers, as well as pieces by Charles Nichols and Mark Engebretson. Her program features both pieces for violin and electronics and violin and piano. She is abetted by pianist Francine Kay. Below, you can check out a video of a work on the program, Nichols’s Il Preto Rosso for violin and interactive electronics. Plum repeats the Nichols at New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival on June 26 at 4:00pm ( info at nycemf.org).
Composed by Lewis Spratlan
with electroacoustic music by John Downey and Jenny Kallick
Libretto by Jenny Kallick
Navona Records CD/DVD
Pulitzer prizewinning composer Lewis Spratlan, abetted by electronics from John Downey and Jenny Kallick, crafts an elegant meditation on creativity in the chamber opera Architect. It is based on the ideas and life story of 20th century Philadelphia architect Louis I. Kahn. The avant electronics palette of Downey and Kallick is well integrated into the score: Spratlan balances elements of traditional orchestration with a conspicuous amount of percussion that helps to bridge the divide between the acoustic and electronic elements.
Three singers are called upon to play five roles; in addition to the title character there are the Guide, the Engineer, the Healer, and Woman. Spratlan is known for the quality his vocal music – his opera Life is a Dream was the winning work for the aforementioned Pulitzer. While the demands of Architect on the singers are significant, the composer always writes so well for the voice that they sound terrific. He also knows how to pick an excellent cast of singers. Baritone Richard Lalli and tenor Jeffrey Lentz both bring vivid characterization and musicality to their respective roles. Soprano Julia Fox exhibits laser beam accuracy and evenness of sound throughout a wide range, even when the vocal lines she is required to sing are quite angular. The Navona release, generously stuff with information and extras, is an ideal complement to the multidimensional view of the creative life provided by the opera.