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Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

Mitzvah for an MP3

When, thanks to an MP3 file posted at the Internet Archive, Paul Zukofsky‘s rendition of “Mitzvah for the Dead (for Violin and Tape),” by composer Michael Sahl, is heard, some 37 years after its broadcast on KPFA-FM, the experience is doubly nostalgic.

First, there is the matter of the time that has passed since a young Charles Amirkhanian, heard introducing the work here, was coaching listeners about the ins and outs of (so-called) new music on his radio show — a role he still plays, of course, through the Other Minds performance series, as well as related Internet downloads and audiostreams.

Second, there is the Eastern European tinge to Sahl’s writing for violin, those sour notes and that modal vibe that together suggest gypsy or Ashkenazi ritual. What isn’t nostalgia-inducing at all is how Sahl interpolates collage and found sounds into his work, from what seem like snippets of analog synthesizers and radio broadcasts, to cut-ups of marching bands that bring to mind the work of Charles Ives.

For the broadcast, which Amirkhanian has posted as part of the Other Minds section at the Internet Archive (archive.org, MP3), Sahl’s work is paired with “Violin Phase” by Steve Reich, also performed by Zukofsky; it’s a characteristically bracing work, in which electronically mediated layers of snatches of riffs are played against each other, finding variation of timbre, tone and tempo in a highly constrained compositional environment. The result is as vibrant as it is economic, with happy accidents of rhythmic coincidence that surprise on every listen.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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