: michael j schumacher

XI Records, 2002, XI127
http://experimentalintermedia.org/xi/

New York sound/installation artist and composer Michael J Schumacher founded Studio 5 Beekman and Diapason sound galleries–2 of the few in the world. His latest double audio CD Room Pieces features a 75 minute rendition of an installation work, and a set of 4 pieces exploring other approaches to composition, improvisation and instrumentation. The liner, heavy with essays, has plenty of supporting information.

The first disc’s Room Piece XI (2002) is based on an installation of the same name that Schumacher has shown many times. It's a generative piece–the composer establishes a set of parameters including the quality and movement of the sounds, and the computer generates the actual material–similar to the basic action of a screen saver. Room Piece XI is presented here in a stereo mix, while the installation itself is a multi-speaker work, reconfigured each time it is exhibited. The music is designed for gallery rather than concert listening, ie the audience will enter and leave unpredictably. Schumacher has dealt with this issue by creating a continuous stream of mini endings and beginnings, short phrases woven seamlessly together. This device is supported by the dynamics of the piece, which resemble a conversation of voices, rather than a grand dynamic of orchestral swells. These approaches are well thought out solutions to the challenges of sound in galleries. I am reminded of the clever seamlessness of Muzak–Schumacher has substituted the play of popular melodies with fragments of noise and virtuosic instrumental/sonic performances–the whole stretched into a reflective reverie.

Much of the music on both discs sparkles with a superhuman fluidity born of the digital. The compositions have an unusual sense of time, contrasting very slow drone/ambient sounds with hyper-active flickers and fragments. On disc 2, Piece in 3 Parts (2002) begins with violin and percussion performances integrating hi-speed reproduction/replication of those performances. Still (2002) pursues an ambient/computer drone of… stillness, with a nod to the micro-tonal strings of 60s European orchestral avant garde. A reworking of the prior track, Still (2002) [sic] contains the formers' ambient bed, with frantic computer music mutterings, taking the fragmented phrasing of serial composition into an acoustic realm of insects and birds. Untitled (1999), a drone piece, sounds very similar to the granite and glacier music of Phil Niblock, weighing in with a much higher density than the other tracks. Overall, the work exhibits a high degree of crafting and refinement, of contrast, dynamics, phrasing and timing.

Hailing from the incense and thick rugs end of New York, rather than the beer and sticky carpets precinct, Room Pieces is fine wine and fine dining. Rather than becoming decadent, the works such as Room Piece XI have purity and aesthetic spareness tasting faintly of minimalists such as Arvo Part, mixing Western tradition with 60s transcendence.

Bruce Mowson

1 December 2005