Thursday, March 23, 2006

Women's History Month: Manhattan Cascade & The Manufacture of Tangled Ivory

Women's History Month at HurdAudio takes a spin at a pair of compositions by New Yorkers that work their way inside the unique timbres of two different keyboard instruments.

"Manhattan Cascade" (1986) by Lois V. Vierk. Scored for 4 accordions. Performed by Guy Klucevsek on Manhattan Cascade from 1992 on the CRI label.

This work is a rich, sonic painting of steady hues across a 20 minute frame. The texture breathes with a steady stream of held tones that crescendo as tremolo intervals bubble to the surface. The rate of change is gradual even as the material remains active from moment to moment. The timbral range of this reedy instrument is explored as the registral and dynamic extremes are revealed over time.

With more works of this intense beauty in the repertoire there may come a day when people quit making apologies for the maligned accordion. This is a larger-than-life, shimmering sound that rewards the open ears. The breathing sound that comes with the squeezing of air through this instrument gives this sound a haunting humanity as long tones take on a quality of fragile mortality as the shorter, staccato sounds take on a quality of laughter. The low register material that forms the logical coda exposes a rich, timbral world that makes for a satisfying conclusion .

"The Manufacture of Tangled Ivory" (1995) by Annie Gosfield. Scored for digital sampling keyboard, cello, double bass, percussion and electric guitar. Performed by the Bang on a Can All-Stars on Cheating, Lying, Stealing from 1996 on the Sony Classical label.

This piece is an exploration of manipulated piano sounds. The first movement is a solo for digital sampler. Various samples of manipulated piano sounds (de-tuned and often temporally shifted) are scattered across the keyboard in a manner that radically departs from the usual left-to-right/ high-to-low one associates with keyboard instruments. In a way, this is a digital re-interpretation of the prepared piano and the "performance" aspect of it gives this music an improvised spontaneity that is often missing in electronic works. The interpretive energy of the live performance gives this work an edge. This music also packs an aggressive energy that carries right into the second movement.

The second movement brings in a full ensemble that grooves hard with this material. The percussion makes the pulse of this material more explicit and also adds punctuation to phrases. The string timbres of the bass, cello and electric guitar add color to the manipulated piano samples and add sustained tones into the mix. The ugly slabs of dissonance are loud and exquisite. And these are made even more beautiful by an excellent sense of contrast by varying the overall thickness of the sound with some abrupt transitions. This is an appealing sound that finds a rare balance between the physicality of a hard groove and a cerebrally stimulating formal structure. The sonic qualities of the piano source material becomes the focal point from which everything explodes outward.

No comments: