Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sounds Like Now

Brian Sacawa of Sounds Like Now held his "unofficial" CD release party for American Voices at An die Musik this evening. If you've ever wondered what "now" sounds like, it's kinetic and sounds like many things. To my ears, "now" sounded like several fruitful collaborations with a healthy range of composers exploring different aesthetic avenues. The most striking thing was the balanced, two-way dialogue between composer and performer that became increasingly visible over the course of the recital.

The sequence of compositions presented a nice arc as the first and last pieces displayed an open embrace of rhythmic pulse and electronics. "The Garden of Love" by Jacob ter Veldhuis derived melodic fragments from spoken voice - a technique and timbre that has much in common with "Different Trains" by Steve Reich. But what set this work apart was the use of purely electronic sounds and passing uses of drum samples for a new angle on this technique. And "Pastlife Laptops and Attic Instruments," a duet with the composer Erik Spangler (a.k.a. DJ Dubble8) on turntables, laptop (and a pre-recorded track) worked a vibe inspired by electronica/hip-hop. This particular composition has grown into a longer-running collaboration of two turntables and a saxophone known as Hybrid Groove Project.

Situated just after or before these displays of rhythmic intensity were a pair of acoustic works of resonant emotional intensity. "Descanso/ After Omega" by David T. Little - which I liked a great deal - for saxophones, piano, vibraphone (frequently bowed) and crystal glasses. The crystal glasses were played behind the audience, providing a backdrop of an invisible drone for the staggered melodic phrases from the instruments at the front of the performance space. The texture had an aching beauty hinting at the deep agony of loss. "Walimai" by Michael Djupstrom for saxophone and piano was another direct collaboration with the composer playing the piano part. This virtuosic piece loosely followed the narrative of a short, tragic love story by Isabel Allende.

At the center of the sequence of compositions was a gem by Alexandra Gardner for saxophone and electronics called "Tourmaline." Gardner describes this work as a conversation between the two parts. And the interaction between the "live" and "pre-recorded" elements did feel seamless as the harmonic qualities of one seemed to pass through or resonate to the other with some carefully rehearsed timing.

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