Thursday, July 7, 2011

Flame Tree - New Zealand Composer Edition (1979)

Much of the language of classical music is a mystery to me, so I approach this material perhaps backwardly, through my love of experimental, improvised, and electroacoustic music.

This LP is a sort of brother to the previous posting, Horizons. Firstly, it has the second of John Rimmer's literal companion pieces 'Where Sea Meets Sky' parts 1 & 2, but it is also a showcase for the more traditionally instrumented works by two of his fellow prime movers of New Zealand's classic period of electroacoustic music, John Cousins and Ross Harris.

The works of Cousins with which I am familiar are fascinating constructions of dictaphone-style voice recordings, carefully copy-edited and minimally filtered and delayed, sitting somewhere between Alvin Lucier's heavily self-ornamented 'I Am Sitting In A Room' and A Handful of Dust's 'Masonic Inborn (Parts I & II)'. Here he offers a completely different exploration of the human voice, with mezzo-soprano Anthea Moller's vocals set amongst spare piano direction.

Harris's work is the most richly evocative. It suggests a bush walk, with synthesizer-simulating birds themselves mimicked, koauau-like, by the flute; while harp and viola construct knobby tracks beneath deep blue-green canopies, letting in occasional tendrils of sunlight amongst irregular patterings from heavy moisture.

One of NZ's undefeated champions of the genre, Rimmer unravels his acoustic chamber ensemble, squeezing an impressive amount of electroacoustic timbres and tropes from them.

This collection is also favoured by a rare (for this time period) contribution by then-expatriate Gillian Whitehead, a sometimes turbulent but sensuous piano piece in which the listener is thrown about in parallel with the pianist's motions, while it paints traces of gesture across the open ear.

Or Between Earth & Sky

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