electrocd

Blog

Current & Upcoming Events

Friday, December 2, 2022 In concert

Birthdays

Friday, December 2, 2022 General

Today December 2 is the birthday of:

More recent and upcoming birthdays:

AMN Review

Mike Eisenberg, Avant Music News, November 28, 2022
Monday, November 28, 2022 Press

Like Annette Vande Gorne, another artist that has undeservedly flown under my radar is Åke Parmerud. As I have been recently re-acquainting myself with his music the usual question comes up… where do I start? Well, he has quite a few very strong releases on the empreintes DIGITALes label, so it came down to me engaging in a highly scientific, researched-based, empirical process… I threw a dart. I’m glad his most recent release, Bruit noir (Black noise) was the chosen one since now I’ve been given a hook that will allow me to work my way backwards on future Parmerud installments by way of comparing/contrasting and framing some sort of evolutionary change in style. At least that’s the plan.

Åke Parmerud seems like a guy that someone like me, someone who is “just” the listener, can deeply relate to. In the early 90’s he wrote a paper called Tendencies in electro-acoustic composition [http://www.parmerud.com/downloads/On%20Electro-acoustic%20music.pdf]. I’ve linked to it for two reasons; 1) it’s really short and very easy to digest and 2) in its brevity he identifies, in layman’s terms some commonly held criticisms about electroacoustic music, why they rightfully exist, and measures to avoid them. I’ve personally found his opinions expressed here very relevant as they pertain to the whole electroacoustic space so, please indulge this rather long prologue before I get to the album. (I HIGHLY recommend reading the paper, it’s refreshingly down to earth.) 

Paraphrasing, he starts out by defining the terms “sound”, “event” and “object”. “Sound” is the raw material in which music is constructed, “sound event” is an action taking place on a certain timeline, and “sound object” is the representation of a complex process that makes up a recognizable structure which can also be distinguished from other “sound objects”. I see it as one or more “sound events” strung together. It’s all very hierarchal. 

These terms are important because, as he says:

“Ever since the art of instrumentation entered the music history, composers have been, to a certain extent, preoccupied with sound in its own sense. But in no music was the sound structure a major compositional means until electronic and concrete music appeared in the late forties.”

Ok, well that’s great, but it’s also fraught with danger as far as the electroacoustic composer is concerned (sorry for the long quote, but it’s salient, bolding is mine).

“I sometime get the impression that some composers really don´t want to be responsible for the sound of the piece at all. If they had the money they would simply compose a structure and leave it to some skilled programmer to put sounding flesh on the bare bones. I do not believe that it is truly possible to separate event structure and sound structure in electroacoustic music. They have to be worked on in parallel, tuned and retuned until the optimal relation has been achieved. Without this relation, the music will not be artistically convincing and of little or no interest to the audience. At least it could not be regarded as sonic art, but rather as an alien form of instrumental music. I do believe that a composer of electroacoustic music must take the full responsibility for creating a complete musical structure where sound and event structures are mutually dependent and inexchangeable. If he can’t handle that, he´s most likely better off composing some other kind of music.”

That all makes waaaay too much sense! I appreciate the straightforward, non-technical language he uses… not something you run into much when reading about this music.

Starting with MIDI technology, Parmerud sees many electroacoustic practitioners concerning themselves, and subsequently getting bogged down with the technically daunting process of making this music instead of the more important “how does it sound” result.

“People in conferences and seminars and festivals will talk for hours about intricate control structures, grammars, fractals, sensors and God knows what, but surprisingly little about sound, art or music.”

“I still believe that a good electroacoustic composition always starts with the composer reflecting on the structural and poetic resources of the sounds from which the piece is to be built. The day composers stops wrestling and experimenting with sound-structures, the term sonic art will have no meaning anymore.”

And the danger comes from the other direction too, as Parmerud points out;

“Unfortunately, sonic art seems to attract some composers who have very rudimentary ideas about composing. All to often a piece may demonstrate some interesting sound material but at the same time be conspicuously void of anything even remotely related to concept, structure, dialectics or poetry. These works simply presents one attractive sound after the other or, if things gets a bit more dense, on top of each other until they eventually disappear into the silence from which they so mysteriously transmogrified themselves earlier.”

Parmerud even goes as far as to hint at what needs to happen (and in my opinion, has happened to a degree) to put the electroacoustic space back on the straight and narrow (bolding mine again);

“We must dare to be more personal, more specific, more unpredictable. We need to build up a new set of sounding symbols and signs that will allow us to communicate with the audience. A new kind of spectral harmonic system, adopted to sonic art, is yet to be invented and investigated. The rhythm of electroacoustic music has to be redefined and reinstalled as a major musical attribute, which will enable us to develop more complex time-relations between an increasing number of layers of sound objects. It is time to leave the mono-linear state and learn how to expand into a multi-dimensional musical space where poly-linear composing will be the electroacoustic equivalent of the traditional polyphony.”

I think Parmerud really speaks the truth here, and he does so in the clearest, simplest, and most logical way I’ve yet to read. I know these quotes are almost 30 years old but, for me, the message they convey is of extreme importance. He chucks into the dumpster the high falutin tweed-jacket-speak and casts away the esoteric, hidden knowledge vibe reserved for the Hermetic few up in the Tower. He talks to us, not AT us! 

But what about Bruit noir? Parmerud may be talking the talk, but does he walk the walk? Yes, he does… and you don’t have to go much further than the 33-minute opener, Louder Than Life to hear it. The “polyphony” he talks about is brought out in this piece in the way he masterfully layers sound over other sound.

There are lots of moving pieces within Louder Than Life but all these pieces are in service to the final goal. His pallet of raw sound is vast, but Parmerud isn’t just throwing random events against a black canvas. The piece is split up into 5 movements, and to really appreciate the overarching beauty, I think it’s best listened to in its entirety. Like Francis Dhomont before him, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and, when looked at in retrospect… the flow of this piece makes complete sense.

Along the way, the listener will encounter enough surprises, mood shifts, undulating sonic landscapes, (some totally alien while others are as familiar as a symphony orchestra), and especially, some uber dramatic tension build-and-release moments with incredible dynamics.

When I was a kid, I used to listen to my King Crimson, Yes, and Gentle Giant albums where I would only pay attention to what one instrument was doing. If I was in a Bruford mood, I would key on the drums, a Fripp mood… the guitar, a Squire mood… the bass, a Minnear mood… the keys, etc. On Louder Than Life, the mind is willing, but the body is weak because Parmerud’s “polyphony” is dialed up to extremely high levels. You can try, and I have… to key on to some of the perpetually shifting currents of sound objects but, as soon as they appear, they poof off into the mists and the brain needs to reset itself again. By then you’ve already missed a couple more easter eggs that were already taking root. This is still a fascinating and rewarding exercise because, experientially, each listen is its own thing. 

Bruit noir is a high recommendation for this piece alone, but the fun continues with Raw and Dark Matter, the other two works on the album. Raw is a commissioned piece and was created by “the most uncontrollable software synthesizer I have ever encountered”. Parmerud calls the piece a “composed improvisation” and I thought to myself well, here might be a good test to see if the composer can stay true to his intentions of keeping the “concept, structure, dialectics or poetry” within the music. In other words, is Raw going to come out sounding like the millions of other noodling modular synth pieces I’m starting to get sick of?

Happily, no! (You probably knew that.) Parmerud does something here that surprised and impressed me… he uses restraint. Instead of sounding like some bedroom knob twirling, patch cord shuffling exercise of getting your rocks off with the latest shiny object, the piece is quite reserved, in some spots… sparse. Not only do we have some bizarre and exotic sounds and structures but there is also a sense of narrative… albeit a strange one, no matter how you look at it. The “alien-ness” and controlled randomness of Raw acts as a great “other” to the more composed and organic “Louder Than Life” but then we come to Dark Matter.

The concept behind Dark Matter is compelling, to say the least. Rather than being about esoteric, alchemical knowledge… the Dark Matter in question is;

“… a sonic “matter” that we cannot normally hear, but which surrounds us wherever there are electrical appliances. Microwave ovens, cell phones, computers, light bulbs… all emit fields of electromagnetic energy. These fields can be measured, recorded and made audible using special detection devices. The majority of the sounds in the piece are recordings of these sounds.”

The first time I visited Australia, my initial reaction was one of familiarity. Everyone spoke English, had lawns they needed to mow, there were birds flying, insects chirping, strip malls everywhere. It wasn’t till later that I started to “notice” things. The grass on those lawns didn’t look like the grass I was familiar with, the birds certainly didn’t look the same, don’t get me started with the insects, and the strip malls had stores that sold things made by companies I’d never heard of. Well, listening to Dark Matter I got that sense of the familiar but, upon further review… and knowing where the sounds are coming from, this is truly a different, unfamiliar type of sound. And, keeping true to form… these “different” sounds still manage to flow in a natural manner. It’s comforting in a way, when the mind doesn’t have to be at odds with the music… it makes the experience that much easier and pleasurable.

Dark Matter, like its two other brethren on Bruit noir demonstrates Parmerud’s intent at building a “new kind of spectral harmonic system”. I think the musical concepts used in all three of these excellent works can be used as jumping-off points for further study and future compositions. I’m looking forward to more detailed forays into his back catalog to see how he got there but, in the meantime… Bruit noir did an excellent job of connecting with this listener on a multitude of levels.

Bruit noir did an excellent job of connecting with this listener on a multitude of levels.

Dufort, Normandeau Nominated for Opus Prizes

Friday, November 25, 2022 General

The album Into the Forest by Louis Dufort is nominated for the 2021-22 Opus Prize in the category “Album of the Year — Musique actuelle, Electroacoustics.” The work Le ravissement by Robert Normandeau — available on the album Mélancolie — is nominated in the category “Premiere of the Year.” The 26th Opus Prize Gala will take place on February 5, 2023 at Salle Bourgie of the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal.

In ‘Difficult Grace,’ a Cellist Moves Beyond Classical Confines

Anastasia Tsioulcas, The New York Times, November 20, 2022
Monday, November 21, 2022 Press

In his wide-ranging multimedia program at the 92nd Street Y, Seth Parker Woods used different artistic avenues as channels for personal and communal exploration.

The cellist Seth Parker Woods presented an evening-long, multimedia program titled Difficult Grace Saturday evening at the 92nd Street Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall. It was the full staging’s world premiere, but, as Woods remarked, he had premiered a “nucleus version” in February 2020 in Seattle; the coronavirus lockdown gave him the opportunity to rework his concept into its current form.

Woods was already a cellist of prodigious technical gifts and sharp intellect. This program has stretched him even further into performing as a spoken word artist and singer as well as instrumentalist.

Aided by the choreographer and dancer Roderick George — a childhood friend from Houston — Difficult Grace was a feast for the ears, eyes and mind.

In one portion of Freida Abtan’s My Heart Is a River, the audience sees a prerecorded video projection of two dancers as Woods plays live in front of the screen. The dancing figures straddle a cello that they are reimagining as a boat. The performer in front — actually Woods himself, with dancer Tamzin O’Garro behind — is wielding the cello bow as an oar. It’s a marvelously apt metaphor: Woods is an artist rooted in classical music, but whose cello is a vehicle that takes him, and his concertgoers, on wide-ranging journeys.

The program included works by a large roster of composers, many of whom used electronic sound design as well as live acoustic cello: Fredrick Gifford, Monty Adkins, Nathalie Joachim, Abtan, Ted Hearne, Devonté Hynes and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. (In addition to Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, who died in 2004.)

Gifford’s piece Difficult Grace, which lent its name to the entire program, included projected artwork by Barbara Earl Thomas and was inspired by Dudley Randall’s poetry. Regrettably, it was difficult to discern from the auditorium seats much of what Woods was saying during long spoken-word stretches. (Projected supertitles would be a welcome addition.) The same was true during Hearne’s work with an unprintable title, with texts by the poet Kemi Alabi. Within the most riveting section of Hearne’s piece, Woods sang and played R&B-flavored harmonies atop hip hop-inspired electronic beats.

Each composer who used prerecorded cello and electronic sound design, sometimes with on-the-spot manipulations, did so to very different aesthetic ends. Woods performed two movements from Abtan’s piece (Opening Out and Seeping In), in which the electronics and the live cello swirled around each other in haunting, echoing duets. Adkins’s gentle, cinematographic Winter Tendrils, accompanied by an equally warmhearted film by Zoë McLean, used electronics almost like an invisible string orchestra, framing Woods’s cello in lush, glowing harmonies.

The most overtly narrative work was Nathalie Joachim’s The Race: 1915, which used projected images from the artist Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series” and texts taken from The Chicago Defender, the Black newspaper that was founded in 1905 and urged Black Americans to move northward in what became the Great Migration. Joachim’s music alternated between busy, cyclical motion and periods of meditative, slow arcs.

The most traditionally “classical” piece during the evening was a technically demanding cello sonata written by Devonté Hynes, whom certain music-loving New Yorkers may recall from his recent stint opening for Harry Styles at Madison Square Garden.

The other fully acoustic work was the third movement from Perkinson’s Lamentations: Black / Folk Song Suite for Solo Cello, entitled Calvary Ostinato. Perkinson’s music evoked centuries of Black American music, between lavish pizzicato sections which called to mind the connections between the American banjo and West African plucked string instruments and bluesy slides from note to note.

The evening ended with a powerful duet between Woods and George dancing live onstage in Tremblay’s asinglewordisnotenough3 (invariant). It’s a piece that crackles with nervous, coiled energy. Woods often attacked his strings with furious intensity, while George’s dancing combined solid muscularity and sinuous movements. Somehow, all of these emotional currents found a home inside Tremblay’s score.

This program has stretched him even further into performing as a spoken word artist and singer as well as instrumentalist.