LARS GRAUGAARD: Venus – NYU Contemp. Music Ensemble; NYU Percussion Ens./ NYU Sym. Orch. / Jens Georg Bachmann & Jonathan Haas, conductors/ Patti Kilroy, violin/ Ian Shafer, oboe/ Patrick Swoboda, double bass – Dacapo multichannel SACD 6.220628, 58:52 (10/9/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
Contemporary computer-composed music in hi-res surround.
The four works on this SACD by Lars Graugaard (b. 1957) were composed especially for the ensembles of New York University, in what is referred to as a “joint search for a new rich and varied musical discourse.” Endeavoring into the complex relationship between composition, perception and emotion, Graugaard uses a computer as a sophisticated performance vehicle and a compositional tool in scored and interactive music, creating a unique and radical sound experience.
The composer’s experiments have led him to use software to create the emotional content of his compossions. Normally, I am skeptical of these experimental attempts to have computers create cogent music, but I think here the efforts are largely musical and successful.
The first piece on the disc, Venus is interestingly scored, and to my ear it is an accessible piece of music. Layers of Earth is also highly listenable, starting with percussion and then turning contemplative and delicate.
Three Places is a bit chaotic, but the interplay between the strings and percussion is fascinating and bares repeated listening.
The most talked about piece on the disc is Book of Throws, written in 2013 for ensemble and improvising piano soloist. No two performances of this work are the same, with the pianist improving against a notated score. The result of this method is that a new pianist is needed for each performance.
The sound of this SACD is OK, but I was surprised the surround channels basically provide ambiance. I would think this kind of music would lend itself to putting the listener inside the ensemble, and I think it is a missed opportunity.
This is the kind of music that the adventurous listener will enjoy. I found most of the compositions quite compelling but I’m not sure the credit goes to the composer or to the computer. There are some places where the music sounds like an orchestra tuning up, but that’s the nature of this kind of music.
Everything is well played by the ensemble, and I’m sure getting through these pieces is a musical and physical workout. I think the disc is a worthwhile adventure into some new and startling music.