In the current moment of hybrid music, of field recordings mixed with live performance, of remixes that can pass as first-draft compositions, of laptop-enhanced traditional instrumentation, it can be informative, not to mention entertaining, to listen before you look, or read. A case in point is “First Vertical/First Horizontal v.1,” a tape work collaboration between composer Stephen Vitiello and the new music ensemble Beta Collide, and which Vitiello has posted on the generously stocked “sounds” page on his website (MP3).
Even that is too much information for a true blank-slate listen — from the work’s opening industrial rhythm, to overlaying tones that suggest a duet for bass flute and distant fog horn, the dimensions and construction of the piece are difficult to fathom. Better to take the sounds at face value and observe how they interact: how a murmur of found noises serves as a bed for the deep, resonant tones; how those tones move between close sonorous proximity and stark contrast; and how the tones themselves become a kind of found sound in the mix as their extended tapering off emphasizes texture over melody. Tape work generally tends to fall into one of two categories: that which emphasizes the cut-up procedures of splicing, and that which seeks to erase any sign of seams amid the constituent materials. “First Vertical/First Horizontal” falls resolutely into the latter.