by | Sep 11, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

AXIOM = MICHAEL BOYD: Bit of Nostalgia for percussion & electronics; JOO WON PARK: Gainesville Soundscape for electronics; ISRAEL NEUMAN: Turnarounds for violin & horn; LIVIU MARINESCU: Bach Variations for alto saxophone; JAY BATZNER: Blue Jaunte (whispers of Gouffre Martel) for electronics; PETER VAN ZANDT LANE: Triptiek for soprano sax, basson and electronics – Society of Composers, Inc./ensembles & soloists – Navona Records NV5856, 55:22 (Distr. by Naxos) ****:

I have noticed a trend in new music and “emerging” composers over the last five to ten years. There is a reexamination of the possibilities of using live electronics and/or pre-recorded electronics in combination with live acoustical instruments – and sometimes to fascinating, almost organic results. There is a secondary trend which is moving new music in the direction of the abstract and/or what I will call unintentionally untraditional, in that melody and traditional harmonies are not the main compositional tools.  A lot of this apparent trend stems from the work of university composers and it is carving out a niche of its own; not trying to “compete” with the orchestral neo-romantic composers, to name but one other big trend.
This new and very interesting collection of works by the Society of Composers, Inc. provides a great deal of new and intriguing listening. In fact, the Society of Composers has its roots in the early 1960s American Society of University Composers and the present permutation includes members both in and outside of academic circles. To the music, though: I find this “next wave” of electronic employment fascinating and reflective of current technology. Music coming from this genre these days bears little resemblance to the—by now—dated and somewhat strident whistles, creaks and blasts of white noise characterized by the early synthesizer folks, cutting edge for their time though they were (like Morton Subotnick).
Michael Boyd’s “Bit of nostalgia…” for example, is an ethereal blend of percussive effects, played here quite well by Michael Sparrow and accompanied by a blend of sounds created in real time by the composer on the computer which evokes everything from “early electronica” to some very urban and mechanical sounds. A truly fascinating work, it is just compact enough to sustain interest.  Joo Won Park’s “Gainesville Soundscape”, conversely, is both the beast in this set at just under fifteen minutes as well as the most organic. Park has sampled a very strangely beautiful mélange of natural sounds – insects, birds, thunder, pedestrian effects – that immerses the listener into an environment that sounds nearly natural but still artificial. The work leaves a strong impression.
The other purely electronic work represented here is “Blue Jaunte (whispers of Gouffe Martel)” by Jay Batzner. The blend of bell like timbres, winds and whispers of a variety of sources seems to represent well both a sense of caves (gouffres) but also a prison referenced in the science fiction work by Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination.
The Society’s composers are not wholly focused on electronics. There are some wonderfully eclectic scores here that use traditional acoustic instruments with electronics. I thought that “Turnarounds” by Israel Neuman is a prime example. Jeffrey Agell, hornist, and Bodil Rørbech, violin, become immersed in an environment that they help create and—to an extent—are affected by. In many ways this is a real virtuoso work for both players and necessitates them interacting with the electronics in a very precise way. The “Bach Variations” by Liviu Marinescu is a nearly frantic take on a Bach melody for solo saxophone and prerecorded electronics, in a brilliant performance by Russell Peterson. This is a very nervous but technically dynamic piece that showcases the soloist quite well.
Similarly, the “Triptiek” by Peter Van Zandt Lane is a very active jazz inspired ensemble work for  soprano sax and bassoon plus electronics. Here too there is a slightly “urban” feel to the sounds produced by the electronics and their source material and the work is put through some modulation and effects that blend nicely. Lane and Phillip Staudlin play very well and with appropriate groove.
I do find the “return” to electronic media as primary compositional materials a very interesting trend or phenomenon. This is all interesting music that may or may not represent any sort of ground-breaking next wave-like—for example—minimalism was. It is, in part, due to the confluence of creativity with budget restraints with technological progress. I liked this music not “better” than most things I’ve heard lately but very much within its niche. This is an entirely different type of listening experience – one I suggest you take in for yourself.
—Daniel Coombs

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