Robert Reigle, Musicworks, no. 78, September 1, 2000

Glenn Gould, in an article accompanying the LP The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, wrote that Wendy Carlos’ prime motivation for synthesizing baroque music was to utilize “the available technology to actualize previously idealized aspects of the world of Bach.” Judging by the name of the CD label and the composer’s choice of Wilhelm Muller’s set of poems, Die Winterreise, one might expect that Daniel Leduc uses technology to “actualize” Schubert’s famous setting for male voice and piano. Indeed, another living composer, Hans Zender, wrote a new realization of Die Winterreise a few years ago. Leduc, however, sets himself a different task: to use ‘soundscape’ for metaphorically illustrating both the poetry of the title work and the themes of the other pieces on the disc. He does not refer to Schubert in the liner notes, although he follows Schubert, rather than Müller’s, ordering of the poems.

What we have, then, are twenty-four miniature sonic evocations of the short poems, followed by a coda. In most of the settings the voice recites the poetry clearly, but, as Leduc intended, it always “gives way to the sound landscape.” Thus, the voice is occasionally covered up unintelligible, or heavily processed (as in traks 14-16, 21, and 23-24). The actor Erwin Potitt recites the poems beautifully. Leduc treats each poem as a distinct musical entity, with the music ending. pausing fading, or cutting off abruptly. He illustrates frequently and carrefully words referring to sounds. The wind mentioned in the first line of the second poem is incorporated into the music accompanying the first poem. Most of the soundscape illustrations, however, are synchronized with the poems, making the contradictions all the more interesting.

For example, [track 8] On the River (Auf dem Flusse) asks in its first sentence why the loud river became quiet, but Leduc presents water noises through most of the piece, saving the quiet section for the end. Similarly, he introduces recordings of songbirds (which Müller does not mention in the poem entitled The Crow (Die Krähe [track 16]) to contrast bleak electronic imitations of crows. The songbirds serve as a bridge, despite the pause between the two pieces, to the next poem, Last Hope (Letzte Hoffnung) [track 17].

For this listener, three of the settings stood out from the others. [Track 9] Looking Back (Rückblick) effectively collages together different types of sounds; Rast consists of slowmoving electronic sounds and filtered noise, with high-pitched repetitive sounds reminiscent of Ryoji Ikeda’s work; and The Signpost (Die Post) creates, with its quiet, blurred sounds, a feeling of ambiguity similar to that heard in some of Nono’s electronic music.

The remaining three works also consist of miniatures, with the longest section clocking in at 4:19. The opening piece, which won the Public Radio Award, is titled Impressionistic answer given by Josef K. to a French tourist walking by the railway station at the end of a winter’s evening (Réponse impressionniste donnée par Josef K. lors d’une fin de soirée hivernale à une touriste française qui passait en face de la gare). Another short work, Traverser les grandes eaux, was inspired by a phrase from the I Ching. A longer piece, Troposphère, consists of four works named after different types of clouds.