Christopher Fox: Headlong (CD Review)

 

Christopher Fox

Headlong

Heather Roche, clarinets

Métier CD

MSV28573

 

Composer Christopher Fox has crafted an imaginative output, employing diverse approaches and many different technical resources. His latest Métier CD, Headlong, is devoted to clarinet music, for instruments of varying sizes. Heather Roche is the stalwart interpreter of these pieces. Her own versatility and facility with myriad extended techniques make Roche an ideal performer of Fox’s music. Indeed, the clarinetist’s website serves as a compendious catalog of techniques used to play contemporary works. This recording serves as an ideal accompaniment to her web-based pedagogical forays.

 

Several of the pieces here are ten-minute essays that have time to build and, in places, to breathe (as, one hopes, Roche is afforded as well). Even slightly shorter works like the gentle, fragmentary seven minutes of …Or Just After are given time enough to display significant exploration of the materials used in their construction. Here, there is a contrast between plummy low register melodies and higher single, sustained notes. Gradually and after many iterations, the upper line gains a note or two. This subtle shift in texture feels seismic and changes the registral give and take of the work. Likewise, small shifts are meaningful moments in the six-minute long Escalation. Originally written for Bb clarinet and here played on contrabass clarinet, the piece explores a mid-tempo stream of short phrases of chromatically ascending notes. In this incarnation, the sepulchral register in which these occur accentuates a kind of “walking bass” character that imparts a hint of jazzy swagger.

 

Some of the pieces include overdubs, either of electronics or other clarinets, and a couple are transcriptions of works originally written for other instruments or else for unspecified woodwinds. Originally composed for oboist Christopher Redgate, Headlong includes an ostinato electronic accompaniment that the composer suggests could sound like video games from the 1980s. The real fun here is the morphing of tempos through three different ratios:  5:4, 9:8 and 5:3. It makes for intriguing interrelationships between the instrumental part and the accompanying motoric bleeptronica. Headlong is an engaging mix of tempo modulation and minimal pulsation that shows a different and appealing side of Fox’s creativity.

 

On stone.wind.rain.sun, Heather Roche overdubs a duet with herself. The two clarinets converge and diverge throughout, with sustained and repeating notes in one instrument serving as a sort of ground for the chromaticism of the other voice. Registral changes, such as a leap downward to the chalumeau register to add single bass notes to the proceedings, divide the counterpoint further still, at any given moment affording one the impression of three or four distinct voices in operation.

 

One of my favorite compositions on the CD is Straight Lines for Broken Times, another piece employing overdubs. One track samples bass clarinet playing polyrhythms while the other two explore the “harmonic riches of the instrument,” as Fox describes a plethora of upper partials. Extended techniques are abundantly on offer. Altissimo notes, multiphonics, microtones, and harmonics create a swath of textures. However, the polyrhythmic underpinning assures that the piece feels guided in its course, beautifully shaping what could be a melange of overtone clouds. Straight Lines for Broken Times encapsulates Fox’s proclivity for experimentation in multiple domains: that of the recording medium, a wide palette of pitches that encompasses microtonal harmonics, and fluidly morphing tempos with intricate layers of local rhythms. The result never ceases to be of interest.

 

Fox and Roche are an ideal pairing. While Fox has a number of CDs to his credit, listening to this one, an ideal future project comes to mind. Next time out, one imagines the composer adding a couple other instrumentalists or a vocalist to the mix to provide Roche with more foils and a few less overdubs. Fox’s ensemble pieces also expansively embrace the musical materials that exemplify today’s experimental wing of contemporary music. With Roche aboard as “team captain,” the result would certainly be another serving of diverting performances.

 

Friday: ACF Goes Alt-Electronica

Demi Broxa
Austrian Cultural Forum prides itself on an eclectic array of offerings, with regular programs presenting excellent composers and ensembles on the cusp of new music making. Pop has been among past proceedings, but an event like the one this Friday treads new ground for the venue.
Viennese duo Demi Broxa (Jakob Schneidewind, bass/electronics and Agnes Hvizdalek, vocals) make their US debut at ACF. In addition to synth soundscapes and beat-driven electronica, vocal effects – whistles and mouth clicks – will be on display in their “Vocals, Electronics, and Bass” set.
Aki Onda
NY-based electronic artist Aki Onda supplies the other half of the show. Onda is known for his cassette soundscapes: for decades he has made field recordings from a variety of locales that then are transformed into sound art. At Friday’s event he will share Cassette Memories from Morocco.
 
The sound in at ACF is good but the seating is not commodious. Events remain free and demand can be high. I recall more than a few occasions where there were lines out the door of hopefuls seeking seats. Friday may just be one of those nights.

Aki Onda – Cassette Memories at Louvre Museum, Paris, 2011 – Part 1 from Aki Onda on Vimeo.

Details
Friday, June 15th, at 7:30 pm
Austrian Cultural Forum New York
Demi Broxa (in their U.S. debut) and Aki Onda.
Admission is free, and reservations (online at ACFNY.org) are required.
11 East 52nd Street, New York, NY (between Fifth and Madison Avenue)
Program
Aki OndaCassette Memories (Morocco 1988 & 2010)
Demi Broxa – Vocals, Electronics, and Bass

 

RIP Pierre Henry (1927-2017)

pierre henry two views

Pierre Henry, the father of musique concrete, and the grandfather of all of us in the electroacoustic music field, has died at the age of 89.

William Grimes has more about Henry’s life and visionary status in an obituary published in the New York Times

Tod Dockstader: “From the Archives” (CD Review)

Tod Dockstader

From the Archives

Starkland CD

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 (CD Review)

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.

Johannes Kreidler – musik mit musik (CD Review)

21513924

Musik mit Musik

Johannes Kreidler

Wergo CD

 

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.

Thursday: Sarah Plum at Spectrum

Sarah Plum

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).