Laurie Radford, Contact!, no. 4:4, April 1, 1991

Action/Réaction is the most recent offering from empreintes DIGITALes’ expanding catalogue of electroacoustic recordings. A collection of Daniel Scheidt ’s work from the past five years, this compact an disc provides a fascinating introduction to his work with interactive music systems. One of the strongest aspects of the disc is the participation of five outstanding performers who have worked extensively with Scheidt during the development of his compositional software. One is introduced to the many facets and possibilities of this music through the unique personalities and talents of each performer, a point in favour of not only the compositional approach, but also the listening value of the disc.

Action/Réaction opens with Obeying the Laws of Physics (1987), one of Scheidt’s earliest interactive works, and one that has been extensively performed by percussionist Trevor Tureski. An edge that existed in early performances of this work seems to have been replaced by a more subtle interaction: a finer balance between periods of furious activity, and moments of reflection where every minute sound is given time to appear, speak, and exit. The difficulty in distinguishing the sounds which are initiated by Tureski’s octapad playing and those that are generated in response by the computer contributes to the excitement of this work in concert, but also to a sense of ambiguity on the recording. (One is tempted here to make a visual analogy between the recording of interactive computer music with the filming of dance.) It is important to keep in mind that this disc presents particular “versions" of Scheidt’s works and that part of the strength of his compositional language is its flexibility, from its algorithmic point of origin to the ever-changing shapes and hues that arise with every subsequent performer and performance. A Digital Eclogue (1986) represents the roots of Scheidt’s interactive explorations. It is fitting that this 1986 recording, with long-standing collaborator Claude Schryer on clarinet, is included amongst its recent brethren, not only for its engaging improvisational flavor, but also for the sensitive exchange between performer and computer. Stories Told (1989) is one of the most striking works on the disc. Soprano Catherine Lewis weaves a fascinating series of ’stories’ with a fabricated computer language provided by Robin Dawes. From the hauntingly suspended aria at the centre of the work, the robust opening and penultimate story, to the final pensive tale, Stories Told successfully explores our ability to attribute sense to vocal and syntactic inflexion and nuance, while simultaneously immersing this exploration in arresting sonic garments. (The texts for these stories are included in the CD booklet for your reading and sounding pleasure.) Norm ’n George (1990) leads us on an extensive journey with tour guide and trombonist extraordinaire George Lewis. Lewis is renowned for his own interactive excursions and brings to this work an extensive improvisational vocabulary. Lewis’ extended playing techniques often mask their acoustic origins and create an intriguing timbral and gestural blend with the digital responses of Scheidt’s system. Squeeze (1990) employs the sensitive playing of bass clarinetist Lori Freedman, and explores another dimension of the same program used in Norm ’n George . The clarinet and computer squeeze each other almost imperceptibly from pitch to pitch creating soft, vibrant clusters that ascend throughout the work, broken only momentarily at the end with a series of gracefully descending glissandi.

The overall presentation of Action/Réaction and the French/English supporting documentation are attractive, pertinent and engaging, an ongoing mark of quality from empreintes DIGITALes.