Bridges and deviations

Matthew Lorenzon: di Scipio, Curran, Haco, Burt

Decibel performing Alvin Curran, THNMF13

Decibel performing Alvin Curran, THNMF13

Decibel performing Alvin Curran, THNMF13

The world première of Alvin Curran’s Way Out Back by the Decibel ensemble reflects the search for bridges between instrumental and electronic composition during the 2013 International Computer Music Conference.

A rhythmic phase on three notes gradually falls apart, making way for a backbeat on two cardboard boxes, leading into a variation on one note played by bowed vibraphone, overblown flute and scraped tam-tam. Comically exhausting these textures, the piece then moves into more electronic terrain, with various filters manipulating the live sound. Suddenly, the ensemble breaks out screaming, overbowing and generally worrying their instruments. Their protest is played back, filtered, over the speakers, before the ensemble plays a funereal chorale. The new work resonates with Curran’s keynote address that narrated, in the finest beat prose, the glorious and disastrous legacy of his generation. The old protest is the new convention, including screaming; advances in music technology have spawned a music industry that perpetuates a canon and homogenises tastes.

Texture/Residue continues Agostino di Scipio’s exploration of dynamic relationships between computers, performers and their acoustic environments. In a paradigm of composition Di Scipio calls “Audible Ecosystemics,” sound from the performer or from the performance space itself alters the way a computer modifies live or synthesised sound. The process becomes recursive as the computer’s output is diffused back into the space or modifies what the performer plays. The process is both an instantiation and a criticism of technological determinism, encouraging a practical knowledge of the agencies of the different components of a hybrid performance.

Incorporating the room into the ensemble of flute, clarinet, viola and cello, the work contributes to the chamber music tradition. There is also something of the chamber work in the compact form of the piece. The ensemble plays a series of short bursts without producing tones. The instruments’ fingerboards and keys control high, echoing, granular sounds that become ever more like the original instrumental clacks and rattles as the players apply breath and bows.

Warren Burt, Without Glue, THNMF13

Warren Burt, Without Glue, THNMF13

Warren Burt, Without Glue, THNMF13

In Without Glue, Warren Burt tests the improvisatory skills of pianist Stuart Little and saxophonist Sean Little by sending them harmonic and gestural directions via laptops on their music stands. The resulting smooth jazz is fairly conventional, except for the filters, reverberation and glitches introduced by Burt. Improvising on the instrumentalists’ improvisations, Burt demonstrated a different sort of virtuosity, accentuating the saxophone’s changing register with ‘squelching’ delay effects and ornamenting their mellow tones with bursts of sound like science-fiction laser beams.

Haco performing StereoBugScope, THNMF13

Haco performing StereoBugScope, THNMF13

Haco performing StereoBugScope, THNMF13

In StereoBugScope, Haco listens to the complex and changing magnetic field of her laptop with a pair of small microphones. The crackling, humming interference varies from task to task, beginning with an explosion of oscillations of different frequencies when the laptop is turned on. Haco separates each activity with a refrain: the gentle hum of the hard drive and two different tones produced by the logic board. Some activities produce the expected sounds: a DVD whirrs, a track pad clicks (sort of). Other sounds are more surprising: the deep throb near the monitor or the high whistle of the ‘sleeping’ computer. The intended effect is a new appreciation of—possibly even sentimental attachment to—the technology around us. I will certainly never again turn on my laptop without imagining the spaceship-like storm of magnetic activity emanating from it.

15 August 2013