Mark Vail, Keyboard, May 1, 1993

Experimental electronic music often tests our ability to listen by doing away with musical conventions and using sound itself to imply new concepts of structure. Sadly, works in this genre are often too boring or pretentious to invite sustained scrutiny. Not so with Smalley. The New Zealand-born composer, now resident in England, rivets attention by creating provocative electronic sounds, mixing them with acoustic elements in complementary combinations, and arranging the resuTts in dynamic sonic processions. A feeling of irresolution permeates these selections, emphasized at times by tonality, as in his three-part Piano Nets and the eerie mix of abstract synthesis and Rhapsody in Blue allusions on Clarinet Threads but more often by use of extended silences, which bracket episodes and create a sense of mystery about what will follow. High-pitched, dental-drill whines, spacey swoops and R2-D2 bleeps date Darkness After Time’s Colours as the earliest composition (1976), while Valley Flow, completed in 1992, utilizes a deeper range of colors, created in part at IRCAM. Yet a consistent aesthetic guides each work—one drawn from an acute sensitivity to environmental stimuli and guided by a willingness to manipulate minute details over extended periods of time. It takes patience to appreciate this kind of music, but Smalley’s artistry makes the effort worthwhile.

… rivets attention by creating provocative electronic sounds…