Monday, December 10, 2012

Denis Smalley on Electroacoustic Compilations, Part One

Fylkingen Electronic Music Competition 1975 Prizewinners (1976)

This little gem is the result of an international competition for composers of electroacoustic music, which was held in Sweden and judged by Dieter Kaufmann, Arne Nordheim, and Jan W. Morthenson. 

Denis Smalley's 'Gradual' is for clarinet, bass clarinet, trombaphone (clarinet mouthpiece in a trombone body) and tape. Smalley's electronic squirts squiggle like surgical crystal. Trombaphonist Kjell-Inge Stevensson's virtuoso oboedjeridoo-like performance combines percussive woodwind finger-tappings and animal growls with tremolo chattering background conversations, quite clearly stealing the show from Smalley's tape-speed manipulations and familiar latex-glass shatterings. 

'Siesta Blanca', from Argentina's Beatriz Ferreyra, is reminiscent of a contemplative version of 'Solitioude' by Fran├žois Bayle, jump-cutting between 'live' musics and electronics. From the folky accordion opening, we slam straight into minimalist drone, creating a mood similar to the anticipatory pause during the opening monologue of the 1960s 'Star Trek', just before the NBC orchestra takes it into technicolour space. Ferreyra's orchestra, however, is caught in an underwater Terry Riley time loop, a flock of flying brass whales, filtered and ringing. Exceptionally beautiful.

Philippe Menard's 'Reel-a-Phil' is both classically electroacoustic, and the most contemporary sounding work. It is almost unbearably exciting in parts: e.g., samples of tearing paper and splitting wood fibres speed up while a simple bass line increases in pace and pitch. There is great audio depth-of-field, complex psychoacoustic spaces are created: upstairs where the wood is being split, behind you where folks are chatting in brick hallways, across the street where the neighbour is chainsawing up firewood. Deflating balloonflies orbit yr skull, while an all-over-the-place exercise in directionless beatmaking on airbrakes is interspersed with amateur-hour contestants singing and dancing to bike horns and spoons. At times, this seems much of a manic master's thesis in electroacoustic technique and composition, while the closing of drone and small percussion is simple and powerful.

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