Monday, March 06, 2006

Women's History Month: Lemniscates & Go Guitars

Women's History Month is in full bloom at HurdAudio. Tonight I have my ears and attention tuned to a pair of chamber pieces for strings that have made a substantial impression both sonically and conceptually.

"Lemniscates" is a severely soft, 18-minute work that occupies a dynamic range just at the edge of perceptibility. As a recording this one is easily lost to any number of ambient sounds in the environment as it is prone to being swallowed up by road noise, a running heater or even a breeze through the back yard. As a live work this one must cast an appealing spell as it invites the active listener to stretch one's perceptions to hear a microscopic world of incredible detail.

This composition calls for a figure-8 bowing technique that spans from the fingerboard to the bridge of the instruments as the left hand gently touches the natural harmonic nodal points of the strings - never actually pressing down for a standard "stopped" tone - as Hovda paints an otherworldly soundscape of overtones, harmonics and the timbral irregularities found between sul ponticello (on the bridge) and ordinario. This sonic image is enormously appealing and the conceptual territory is haunting. It's a work that's never far from my mind whenever I write for strings.

"Go Guitars" is completely different from "Lemniscates," and yet strangely similar as well. Dynamically, this one is loud - aided by the electricity and amplification (and post-production as this is an over-dubbed performance). This one also invites the active listener to hear a universe of detail within the physical properties of vibrating strings.

There is extensive use of score da tura as the open strings are radically re-tuned for a contained universe of custom harmonies that give this work its identifiable sound. With the insistent, sharp plucking of these strings there's also a great physicality to this sound as the pulse adds a serious degree of momentum. Another dominating element of this sonic image is the persistent use of glissando that keeps so much of the harmonic material in a constant state of flux. This one could be described as a turbulent yet intelligible wall of sound that somehow increases in intensity over the course of 12 delirious minutes.

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