Classical music and synthesizers go hand in hand, in part because of the academic origins of much beta-era synthesizer experimentation, and in part because of how renditions by Wendy Carlos, Tomita, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, among others, of standard repertoire helped expand the early audience for electronic music. The tradition is alive and well. This coming month, Sony will release the retro Bach to Moog by Craig Leon.
What follows are two different versions of a contemporary classical favorite: the same Arvo Pärt piece performed on two very different synthesizers. The piece is Pärt’s “Solfeggio,” which in its original form is arranged for a gently shifting array human voices. Here it is with its tones transferred by the artist Tomorrow the Cure to the Tetra, from Dave Smith Instruments, the “father” of MIDI:
There is also a version from 2009 on the Doepfer Dark Energy by the same musician, who is based in Norfolk, Great Britain (more at soundcloud.com/tomorrowthecure). That Dark Energy recording is not available for embedding, but can be accessed at the musician’s youtube.com account.
The sheer scale of Sabrina Schroeder’s “Stircrazer: Hammer + Flutter” brings to mind theater as much as it does music. Despite its extended quiet passages, it is dense with activity. It has the implicit energy and presence of a massive construction site sealed off by a privacy wall. Whirring and rattles, dragged equipment and electric drones, all amid fierce rumbles, collectively bring to mind an industrial set piece out of Heiner Goebbels. The work credits four performers in addition, presumably, to Schroeder herself — Pablo Coello, saxophone; Angélica Vázquez, harp; David Durán, piano; and Ramón Souto, percussion — but it sounds like legion. And as it progresses, it comes into focus, like the massive machinery has been laid bare, and yet its purposes remain mysterious.
In an accompanying note, Schroeder, who posted the track at the start of this month, gives some context: “Work-in-progress workshopped and premiered this past November (2014) by Vertixe Sonora Ensemble in the Correspondencias Sonoras Festival at Galician Center for Contemporary Art, Santiago de Compostela, Spain.”
Isnaj Dui is Katie English of Halifax, West Yorkshire. Her work generally focuses on the flute, which, along with other instruments, is transformed through unusual performance practice, including electronic processing. The track “Dean Clough Cellar” is named for the Halifax business and arts center “that was once the world’s largest carpet factory.” The piece is gestural, the flute heard as a series of looped, layered fragments amid the ritual clank of, perhaps, pots and pans. Over the course of nearly four minutes, the looping provides a mechanical inflection to the flute, helping form a complementary pairing with the more percussive material.
What is great about Ethan Hein’s participation in the public discussion of music isn’t simply that he writes exuberantly about the making, the distribution, and the consumption of his subject, or that he ably employs images to point out the Venn Diagram that is funk or the constellation of pop that orbits a single sampling data point, but that on top of it all, he uses music itself to pursue ideas. For example, he explored a Bach invention by using MIDI to apply the note sequence to the Latin percussion pack that is part of the popular music software suite Ableton. The effort is doubly effective because in addition to sounding out Bach’s classical piece in what, cultural context might suggest, is a more populist instrumental realm, Hein also connects back to the piano being, for all intents and purposes, a well-tuned percussion instrument itself:
Here for reference is the Bach in question performed on, you know, a piano:
The track “Weavezyme” is Chrissie Caulfield turning noise into music, specifically machine noise, and specifically something with a distant yet clinging association to classical music. The track is from a recent collection, titled Mechanisms, in which Caulfield’s violin and, to a lesser degree, cello join up with transformed recordings of machinery in action — here sodden thud and distant clank and rumbling drone. She notes in a brief accompanying statement, “This is an album based loosely on ‘mechanisms’ of various kinds. Many of the tracks feature actual mechanical noises, but some are just a nod to classical compositional ‘mechanisms’ or structures.” That sentence makes a helpful parallel to the concept of language itself being a form of technology.
• May 13, 2015: Last spring-semester class meeting of the 15-week course that I teach on the role of sound in the media landscape at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I'll next teach it in spring 2016.
• December 13, 2015: The 19th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• Ongoing: The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: soundcloud.com.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.