Monday, March 20, 2006

Women's History Month: The Vermeer Room & Airwaves (realities)

Women's History Month continues at HurdAudio with attentive ears tuned toward an east coast/left coast pair of compositions.

"The Vermeer Room" (1989) by Julia Wolfe. Scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, piano, 2 percussionists, 2 violins, viola, cello, bass and harp. Performed by Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne on the Bang on a Can Live: Volume 1 compilation from the CRI label in 1992.

I've experienced this work live on a couple of occasions and it effectively fueled my fascination with the music of Julia Wolfe. Wolfe makes aggressive strokes of color across the canvas of time with this large ensemble. Some of these sonic strokes are drawn out as dense textures collapse into a single held tone. Other strokes are allowed to splash with thick harmonic clusters. Linear, melodic lines are clipped short and often only grow as sequences that grow underneath the overall soundscape.

The use of dynamic contrast gives this work an added depth of color. Late in this 12-minute work a quiet takes hold that allows sparse drones to swell into the foreground as a pulse animates the sound as a whole. The comingling of dissonance with familiar triadic harmonies is particularly appealing in this wake behind the crashing wave of sound that came earlier. This work ends abruptly with a choked cymbal crash like the sharp edge of the canvas cutting off a dense fog of color. This is a remarkable piece of music.

"Airwaves (realities" (1987) by Maggi Payne. An electronic work made up of the "unprocessed" sound of cars passing by and airplanes flying overhead as well as a heavily manipulated sounds of television and radio broadcasts. This work is found on Another Coast (New Works From the West) compilation from 1988 on the Music and Arts label.

This work was composed as a commentary on the contrasting sense of realities between those who dwell in the deserts of Nevada and the urbanites of the San Francisco Bay Area. The broadcast source material is completely drained of any contextual content or audible traces of their original origin. Instead, they yield surprisingly harmonic, shimmering outlines that evoke an otherworldly texture of intense spaciousness found within a tightly microscopic soundscape.

"Airwaves (realities)" has an immediacy that I find rare in concrete works. By reducing the already loaded (and saturating) source of broadcast sound to verbiage-free materials Payne avoids the cliche of painting with clumsy textual artifacts and arrives at an inviting soundscape that lingers well after the initial 10-minute imprint.

1 comment:

Les said...

Maggi Payne's music is all really lovely and wonderful. It surprises me that she's not more well known. She's also a great teacher.