04 Sarah PlumPersonal Noise
Sarah Plum
Blue Griffin BGR619 (bluegriffin.com)

This fantastic new release by an ardent proponent of the contemporary violin repertoire, violinist Sarah Plum, is a must-have for everyone who loves meaningful sonic adventures. Personal Noise features works for violin and electronics, delivered via the imagination and composing pen of Kyong Mee Choi, Jeff Herriott, Mari Kimura, Eric Lyon, Eric Moe, Charles Nichols and Mari Takano. 

Works on this album came as a result of a personal connection between Plum and each composer and were either written for or commissioned by her. The exciting mixture of electronically processed sounds and extended contemporary violin techniques is further enhanced by imaginative and dynamic performance by Plum. And if you think there are no beautiful melodies on this album, you are wrong; distinct melodies and elements of beauty are present throughout. Layers upon layers of textures and colours make the music rich, dreamy, sometimes unpredictable, sometimes probing. Each composition features the explorative element of some kind, be it the notion of serendipity in music (Herriot’s after time: a resolution), paraphrasing of the melody from Bach’s Violin Sonata in B-Minor (Choi’s Flowering Dandelion), or articulation of the musical cryptogram spelling Sarah’s name (Lyon’s Personal Noise with Accelerants). Interactive electronics in Kimura’s Sarahal, along with violin trills, pizzicatos, arpeggiatos and harmonics, create colours to die for and a full sonorous sound.

Sarah Plum offers complex yet conceptually clear interpretations of these works. Her distinct style of playing allows for passion and lyricism in one bow stroke, a perfect personal noise.

05 Calques UmlautCalques: Morton Feldman; Karl Naegelen
Quatuor Umlaut; Joris Rüůhl
Umlaut Records UMFR-CD 37 (umlautrecords.com)

Connecting the common threads between French composer Karl Naegelen’s Calques and US composer Morton Feldman’s Clarinet and string quartet, Paris-based Quatuor Umlaut and clarinetist Joris Rühl emphasize indeterminacy but add enough variations to counter shifts towards the soporific. Together violinists Amaryllis Billet and Anna Jalving, violist Fanny Paccoud and cellist Sarah Ledoux project a unison sound. Yet with shaded glissandi plus expanding and compressing textures, their harmonies can crackle like electronics or vibrate like a single long string. This serves as perfect counterpoint to the split tones, near inaudible whistles, hollow puffs and clarion peeps from Rühl, who is equally involved with free improvisation. The resulting shaded drone adds a warmer thrust to Naegelen’s composition, especially when it’s completed with a concentrated pipe-organ-like throb from all five.

Feldman’s piece often cushions woody clarinet tones within luminous coordinated string harmonies for a warmer and gentler exposition. While this gentling motif reappears frequently, other sequences have the layered strings shimmering upwards or the clarinetist moving from mid-range acquiescence to project tongue slaps and higher-pitched trilling arabesques. Sliding among the unison string coordination, these timbral reed variations create a darker interface as low-pitched cello strokes are contrasted with pizzicato plucks from the others’ elevated tones. Return to the initial indeterminate but repeated introductory passage confirms both the underlying malleability of what could be a static form and the urbanity of the musicians’ interpretation and linkage to a more contemporary composition.

Listen to 'Calques: Morton Feldman; Karl Naegelen' Now in the Listening Room

06a Bolcom HornWilliam Bolcom – Trio for Horn; Solo Violin Suite No.2
Steven Gross; Philip Ficsor; Constantine Finehouse
Naxos 8.579102 (naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.579102)

William Bolcom – The Complete Rags
Marc-André Hamelin
Hyperion CDA68391/2 (hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA68391%2F2)

William Bolcom (b.1938) is a renowned American composer whose works are wide-ranging, genre-bending and utterly fascinating. While Bolcom’s compositions from around 1960 employed a modified serial technique, under the influence of Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luciano Berio whose music he particularly admired, in the 1960s he gradually began to embrace an eclectic use of a wider variety of musical styles. In addition to four large-scale operas and numerous concertos, Bolcom has also written nine symphonies, twelve string quartets, four violin sonatas, numerous piano rags, four volumes of gospel preludes for organ, four volumes of cabaret songs, three musical theatre works and a one-act chamber opera.

Chamber Works features two pieces, the Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano (2017) and the Suite No. 2 for Solo Violin (2011). The Trio showcases each instrument to its fullest in both soloistic and ensemble capacities and, while mostly atonal, the work incorporates brief moments of tonality that reorient the listener’s ears and provide a grounding element, especially in the more tumultuous movements. The Suite, conversely, is exquisitely tuneful and is clearly structured around the dance forms of Baroque solo violin suites, especially those of J.S. Bach. Rhythmic vitality and instrumental virtuosity reign supreme here, and the performance given by violinist Philip Ficsor is both admirable and noteworthy.

06b Bolcom HamelinThe piano rag, (i.e. ragtime), is a musical style that reached its peak popularity between 1895 and 1919. A precursor to the development of jazz, ragtime is characterized by its syncopated or “ragged” rhythm and was popularized during the early 20th century by composer Scott Joplin and his school of classical ragtime. Although it fell out of favour in the 1920s, composers and performers alike have revived the styles and forms of the genre in the decades since, including Bolcom. His collection of rags is among the finest adaptations of ragtime within contemporary music, achieving a blend of stylistic familiarity and artistic creativity that is unique while avoiding appearing derivative or gauche.

And who better to handle Bolcom’s ingenious rags than Marc-André Hamelin, perhaps Canada’s premier interpreter of contemporary music? As someone who successfully handled the seemingly insurmountable piano works of Kaikhosru Sorabji and Charles-Valentin Alkan, Hamelin’s name is synonymous with “unplayable” scores that transcend the conventional understanding of virtuosity. Here, however, he lends his deft touch to material that is considerably less demanding from a technical perspective yet has certain stylistic requirements, the challenges of which he meets with precision and sensitivity.

For those familiar with the music of Bolcom, both of these recordings are guaranteed to be a delight; they also serve as fine starting points for those who are unfamiliar. The Complete Rags adapts an old yet familiar style through a master performer’s touch, while Chamber Works provides a glimpse into Bolcom’s more modern approach, a perfect pairing for anyone interested in this icon of American modernism. 

07 Derek BermelDerek Bermel – Intonations – Music for Clarinet and Strings
Derek Bermel; Christopher Otto; Wiek Hijmans; JACK Quartet
Naxos 8.559912 (naxos.com/CatalogueDetail/?id=8.559912)

What amazing art evolves from decaying empires! Consider this new release by Derek Bermel. Widely travelled, juxtaposing American styles like twangy folk and wrenching blues, adding elements from farther afield (South American, African, Thracian), Bermel fashions wonderful curiosities from this mittful of influences. Intonations, played with surly strut by the JACK Quartet, is all bending pitches and grinding gears, although the second movement, Hymn/Homily is poignant and sweet. Ritornello is a single-movement work for string quartet and electric guitar (played by Wiek Hijmans). After the ear-stretching dissonance of the prior tracks, this at first sounds pop, even a bit like Classical Gas. Briefly. Then it’s Death and the Maiden meets R2D2, and into the multiverse we go.

Composer turns clarinetist on Thracian Sketches. A deep and mellow low register melody emerges, exploring the world of octave-plus-tritone, and eventually becoming tired of that limited space. As the melody careens upward, Bermel vocalizes while playing, adding a menacing buzz to the line. Sure enough, once the upper register is breached, all heck breaks loose. It’s one of those pieces that will take all the player’s endurance. Doubtless circular breathing is a featured asset, so seldom does the sound actually stop. It’s a brilliant piece for solo clarinet, ending with a fantastic race down and back up the range of the horn, the explorer thrilled with the view.

Five brief Violin Études haunt the ear thanks to excellent renditions by Christopher Otto. To close the disc, Bermel and the JACKs perform A Short History of the Universe. Its second movement, Heart of Space, could be a parody of the theme from Love Story. Balkan dance and Lutheran chorale jockey for position in the good fun of Twistor Scattering, and then refer back to the atonal pointillism of Multiverse, the first movement. 

Excellent liner notes enhance the many pleasures of Bermel’s music.

09 Victor HerbietVictor Herbiet – Airs & Dances
Victor Herbiet; Jean-François Guay; Marc Djokic; Julian Armour; Jean Desmarais
Centrediscs CMCCD 29822 (cmccanada.org/website-search/?q=CMCCD29822)

Looking back to the era when the saxophone was elbowing its blustery way to the front of composers’ to-do lists, Victor Herbiet offers a diet of 20th-century stylings for a variety of chamber settings all featuring his instrument. Airs & Dances is exactly what it says it is, and the writing is every bit as capable as the playing. It seems a good strategy for saxophonists to provide themselves with fresh repertoire, should they feel so inclined. Herbiet does, in a way that is both pleasant and certainly challenging to the player, and fun for the listener. 

The opening track, Troika, purports to reference the more jazzy side of Shostakovich, but I hear a good deal of Milhaud or Poulenc as well. Wherever it hails from, it’s a romp. Much of the disc is lighthearted and fun, veering into uncloaked Romanticism in track seven, Pas de Deux for soprano and alto dance-aphonists. Herbiet is ably abetted on several tracks by fellow saxist Jean-François Guay, and aided ably on others by the very fine pianist Jean Desmarais. The other collaborators are fellow Ottawans Marc Djokic on violin and cellist Julian Armour. 

Herbiet touches down somewhere closer to the current century in Paris Rush, a sparkling duo again featuring Guay, again for soprano and alto saxes. Imagine the Beatles’ tune from Sergeant Pepper’s, A Day in the Life, but mimed out by two saxes in a French accent. Trois Valse-caprices are solo etudes in the style of an early 20th century composer/dentist, Dr. Gilles Amiot. Herbiet’s solid technique is on full display, and perhaps he’ll consider filling (get it?) a whole study book with these types of pieces.

10 Weill ShostakovichWeill – Symphony No.2; Shostakovich: Symphony No.5
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra; Lahav Shani
Warner Classics (warnerclassics.com/artist/rotterdam-philharmonic-orchestra)

“Kurt Weill, symphonist” doesn’t jibe with the reputation of the composer from post-WWI Germany. Known more for his theatre work and songs, Weill was discouraged in his early efforts at the large abstract form; unlike his contemporary, Dmitri Shostakovich, his “serious” works remain overlooked. 

Weill’s Second Symphony (1933) is presented in a clever pairing with the well-known Fifth Symphony (1937) by the Russian titan, comparing the work of the older man who was forced from his home by the rising Nazi peril to the younger one who stayed put in Stalinist Russia. It’s a shame Weill’s symphony is sidelined by most orchestras. His was a mature, original voice; early criticism missed the mark, calling him a melodist whose ideas were fit only for the cabaret. Weill wrote tonal but edgy, hyperbolically dramatic music, and this is an excellent rendering. 

Shostakovich wrote his Fifth to keep the wolves at bay, ticking the boxes that Stalinists insisted were proper to good Soviet Art: strife overcome by struggle, a triumphant finale, and no experimental formalisms. Somehow the effort produced a masterpiece of veiled irony.

The Rotterdam Philharmonic under Lahav Shani makes a capable team. The recording favours bombast in the fortissimo passages, so the answering dolce colours are sweet relief. The piano entry and fugue in the Fifth’s first movement sends chills. The edges are sharp, and the tempi barely hold the road around the curves. I’ve heard faster, but not more hair-raising. The fierce delicacy of the scherzo is a total delight, if you appreciate comic terror. The largo will make anyone with a soul weep, an over-the-top, haunting lament. The finale, or “a triumph of idiots” per Rostropovich, was disguised parody.

Shani and company emphasize the darkness and perhaps even the despair Shostakovich must have felt, and the fear he sustained of being “disappeared” for improper artistic ideas. Weill was perhaps the luckier of the two, having escaped Nazi Germany to publish his “degenerate” music without fear of being detained for it, let alone for being Jewish.

11 British Piano ConcertosBritish Piano Concertos: Addison; Bush; Maconchy; Searle; Rubbra; Benjamin
Simon Callaghan; BBC NOW; Martyn Brabbins
Lyrita SRCD.407 (wyastone.co.uk/british-piano-concertos-addison-bush-maconchy-searle-rubbra-benjamin.html)

Be forewarned: there aren’t any actual piano concertos here and one composer isn’t British, but don’t let that deter you from this disc’s pleasures.

Oscar-winning film composer John Addison’s 17-minute, five-movement Wellington Suite for two horns, piano, percussion and strings was written for the 1959 centenary of Wellington College, Addison’s alma mater. Occasional “wrong notes” add humour to the jaunty, vaudeville-inflected set of dances.

The non-Brit, Australian Arthur Benjamin, modelled his 15-minute, one-movement Concertino for Piano and Orchestra (1927) after Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It’s genial and jazzy, featuring prominent parts for trumpet and alto saxophone. In Elizabeth Maconchy’s sharply etched, 12-minute Concertino for Piano and String Orchestra (1949), two syncopated, neoclassical Allegros surround a haunting, reflective Lento. It’s a real gem!

Intended for students, Humphrey Searle’s dodecaphonic Concertante for Piano, Percussion and Strings (1954) packs lots of drama – portentous chords and pounding percussion – into its mere four minutes. Edmund Rubbra’s nine-minute Nature’s Song (1920), subtitled Tone Poem for Orchestra, Organ and Pianoforte, was composed during Rubbra’s studies with Gustav Holst. I found it much more martial than pastoral. Geoffrey Bush’s ten-minute, four-movement A Little Concerto on Themes of Thomas Arne for Pianoforte and Strings (1939) is an affectionate pastiche of charming melodies by the 18th-century composer of Rule, Britannia.

Pianist Simon Callaghan and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Martyn Brabbins sparkle in these varied works, all, except for Benjamin’s Concertino, here receiving their first-ever recordings.

12 Carl VineCarl Vine – Complete Piano Sonatas
Xiaoya Liu
Dynamic CDS7931 (xiaoyaliupiano.com/press)

Australian Carl Vine (b.1954) has written at least eight symphonies, nine concertos, six string quartets and 40 scores for dance, theatre, film and TV, but “only” four piano sonatas, ranging from 15 to 19 minutes in duration.

Vine’s two-movement Piano Sonata No.1 (1990) was commissioned and choreographed by the Sydney Dance Company, where Vine was resident composer and pianist. Beginning gloomily, it soon erupts with driving, irregular rhythms, repeated rapid phrases over syncopated thumping, glittering sonorities, headlong accelerandos and booming climaxes.

Distant echoes of Debussy and Rachmaninoff inhabit the first movement of No.2 (1997). Propulsive, jazzy syncopations fill the concluding second movement until a slow, suspenseful interlude leads to an enraged plunge to the sonata’s final, brutal explosion. No.3 (2007) is in four movements: Fantasia opens with slow drips over dark chords, followed by distorted Chopinesque melodies; in Rondo, meditative passages separate surging, percussive rhythms; Variation presents elaborations of Fantasia’s drips and chords; Presto begins and ends violently, interrupted by a gentle, disquieted ambulation.

The three-movement No.4 (2019) starts with Aphorisms, its slow, aimless melody wandering over burbling arpeggios. In Reflection, delicate droplets over low rumbles bookend a restless, yearning central section. Pummelling barrages surround plaintive lyricism in Fury, expressing, says Vine, “relentless and unfocused anger,” ending in a ferocious prestissimo-fortissimo.

Pianist Xiaoya Liu, top-prize-winner of several major piano competitions, brilliantly surmounts all the extreme virtuosic challenges of these intense, turbulent works – gripping music that definitely deserves your attention.

Listen to 'Carl Vine – Complete Piano Sonatas' Now in the Listening Room

13 Lincoln TrioTrios from Contemporary Chicago
Lincoln Trio
Cedille CDR 90000 211 (cedillerecords.org)

My November 2021 WholeNote review of a CD containing trios by two Chicago composers praised “the vivid colours, dramatic expressivity and sensational virtuosity” of the Lincoln Trio, here returning with compositions by five living Chicagoans.

Sensual passion fills Shulamit Ran’s eight-minute Soliloquy, derived from an aria in her opera Between Two Worlds, in which the tenor (here, the violin), yearns for his beloved. Less satisfying is Augusta Read Thomas’ …a circle around the sun…, five minutes of enigmatic fragmentation.

Three works written for the ensemble receive their first recordings. Shawn E. Okpebholo’s 11-minute city beautiful celebrates three Chicago architectural icons. Dribbling, undulating melodies evoke the 82-storey Aqua Tower’s wave-like exterior. Long-lined, pastoral lyricism reflects the horizontal planes of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. Okpebholo calls Union Station “an amalgam of neoclassicism and modernism;” his similarly styled music expresses, he says, the terminal’s “century-old hustle and bustle.”

Mischa Zupko’s three-minute Fanfare 80, honouring the Music Institute of Chicago’s 80th year, exists in versions for orchestra, woodwind quintet and the Lincoln Trio. Rambunctious seven-and-11-beat measures create, writes Zupko, “a savage celebration.” One wonders why.

The best comes last. Sanctuary is Stacy Garrop’s two-movement, 23-minute, emotion-wrenching memorial to her father. In Without, brooding anguish, urgent desperation and a “pseudo-Jewish folksong” describe, she writes, a girl “searching for her lost parent.” Within’s hymn-like solemnity and gentle piano wind-chiming represent the girl (violin) finally reuniting with her father (cello) “within the sanctuary of her own heart.”

14 Pathos TrioWhen Dark Sounds Collide: New Music for Percussion and Piano
Pathos Trio
Panoramic Recordings PAN24 (newfocusrecordings.com)

These specially commissioned works are so unusual and remarkable that they demand an equal share in the limelight of this debut album, When Dark Sounds Collide by the Pathos Trio. The stunning music expertly interlaces a wide world of time and space, and musical traditions, into extraordinary repertoire for percussion and piano. 

In each work, the Pathos Trio have closely collaborated with the composers – Alyssa Weinberg, Alison Yun-Fei Jiang, Finola Merivale, Evan Chapman and Alan Hankers, who is, of course, also the pianist of the trio. 

This has resulted in some truly inspired performances by the members of the trio, who demonstrate – in soli as well as in ensemble – each composer’s heightened skill at conjuring a spectrum of sonic worlds. The collision of metallic, wooden and electronic percussion instruments – performed by Felix Reyas and Marcelina Suchocka – alternate, blend and often enter into outright battle with the plucked, strummed strings stretched taut across the brass frame of the concert grand piano, which is also softly hammered and variously pedalled by Hankers. 

The music veers from delicate washes of sound in Jiang’s Prayer Variations and Hankers’ Distance Between Places to somewhat cataclysmic eruptions such as those that inform the mysterious strains of Merivale’s oblivious/oblivion, often punctuated by prescient and even foreboding silences. Meanwhile, the musicians also revel in the passagework – both delicate and fierce – of Chapman’s fiction of light and Weinberg’s Delirious Phenomena.

Listen to 'When Dark Sounds Collide: New Music for Percussion and Piano' Now in the Listening Room

15 Allison CameronAllison Cameron – Somatic Refrain
Apartment House
Another Timbre at196 (anothertimbre.com)

Somatic Refrain is another in the English label Another Timbre’s extensive series of recordings of contemporary Canadian composers’ works performed by Apartment House, a distinguished British ensemble dedicated to performing contemporary music. The works here, composed between 1996 and 2008, spring from different creative impulses but share a certain probing calm, a deliberated tone of sensitive inquiry, as if the pieces were already there and Cameron was examining why and revealing their graces.

Somatic Refrain (1996) is a solo piece for bass clarinet. Originally commissioned by Torontonian Ronda Rindone it’s played here by Heather Roche of Apartment House. The instrument’s extraordinary timbral possibilities have been more extensively examined in improvised music than in composition, and the intrepid Cameron explores the range of Rindone’s mastery of multiphonics, creating a piece that demonstrates the instrument’s richly expressive possibilities. H (2008) comes from a period when Cameron was exploring folk music and assembled an Alison Cameron Band in Toronto for those ends. Here she plays banjo, bass harmonica and toy piano with Eric Chenaux and Stephen Parkinson, on acoustic and electric guitars respectively, forging a folk-like lament that’s at once somber, resilient and distinctly homespun.  

Similar qualities infuse the longer works performed by Apartment House. Pliny (2005) and the three-movement Retablo (1998) reflect a sensibility as much formed by the deliberated calm of medieval music as by contemporary works. The former, inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’ tale Funes, the Memorius, initially invokes a serene clarity that is gradually permeated by a spreading dissonance; the latter suggests both order and mystery in a three-movement work inspired in part by Tarot cards.    

An interview with Cameron discussing these pieces on Another Timbre’s website provides enriching insights into her work and the playful dimension of her creativity.

16 Finola MerivaleFinola Merivale – Tús
New Focus Recordings FCR327 (newfocusrecordings.com)

Finola Merivale is an Irish composer currently living in New York. Her works have been performed around the world including at the Bang on a Can festival in NYC and Vox Feminae in Tel Aviv by groups as diverse as Talea Ensemble, PRISM Saxophone Quartet and Bearthoven. Tús, which is the Irish word for “start” and the album’s five works represent ten years of Merivale’s compositions. They are performed with rigour and compassion by the Desdemona ensemble. 

My favourite piece is the opening Do You Hear Me Now? The liner notes describe this as «a direct riposte to the entrenched malaise of academic music institutions.» I love the aggressive opening: with its loud and looping lines it possesses an electric and frenetic exuberance. The 17-minute work goes through many phases, is always intense and ends with a fearless finish. In contrast, The Silent Sweep as You Stand Still was composed just prior to the COVID lockdown and contains softly dissonant sections that are almost silent and louder sections that are more angular and provocative. It builds a tonal landscape which walks the listener through spaces of anxiety and unease. Merivale is an innovative composer who continues to work on her craft and Tús is an engaging collection of her work. 

17 Daniel JankeDaniel Janke – Body in Motion
Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 29522 (cmccanada.org/shop/cd-cmccd-29522)

Canadian composer/musician/filmmaker/media artist Daniel Janke is a respected musical creator in various artistic environs/genres. Edmonton-born, he grew up in Ontario and is now based in Whitehorse, Yukon spending time in Montreal and Berlin. Some compositions from his dancers/choreographer collaborations are featured here.

Janke perfectly balances rhythms and musical sounds in his storytelling dance works. Opening Martha Black’s Reel (1996), commissioned by Dancers With Latitude, is a fast Celtic-influenced work featuring violinist Adele Armin’s exciting legato “fiddle” lines, jumping intervals, string plucks and slight atonalities above Janke’s grounding, at times low drone, prepared piano. The four-movement String Quartet No. 2 “River” (2011) is ambiently performed by violinists Mark Fewer and Aaron Schwebel, violist Rory McLeod and cellist Amahl Arulanandam. Part 1 low- and high-pitched held notes create a meditative sound. Part 2 has tension building slightly melancholic atonal sounds and plucks. Part 3 features fast legato turning lines reminiscent of a river current. Part 4, which accompanies the short film River, is slow, dark and moody yet comforting with simultaneous low and high strings, and subtle grooves. In the Badu Dance commission Yaa Asantewaa -- Part 1 (1995), Adele and cellist brother Richard Armin play dancer friendly close, at times fragmented, conversational lines against Alan Hetherington’s ringing percussion, in another memorable recording by the late violinist, who died in June 2022 after a long battle with cancer. Virtuosic The Bells (1987) has Janke playing solo piano wide-pitched melodies/effects to closing ringing bell-like pitches.

It’s wonderful listening to dance music from Janke’s decades-long illustrious output.

18 Joseph PetricSeen
Joseph Petric
Redshift Records TK519 (redshiftrecords.org)

Internationally renowned Canadian accordionist Joseph Petric is a respected solo/chamber performer. In his first full-length release since 2010, Petric performs his five commissions spanning his decades-long career, and one other work. It is illuminating to hear him here play solo accordion, and also accordion paired with electroacoustic sounds.

Petric shares compositional credit with composer David Jaeger in the opening track Spirit Cloud (2021) for accordion and electronics, a reworking of an earlier Jaeger solo cello work. An energetic wide-pitched full-reed, solo accordion beginning with fast trills and lines leads to the addition of electroacoustic soundscape effects like echoing, held tones and washes, in an equal-partner duet. 

Composer Norbert Palej writes with precise instrumental understanding and purpose in the spiritually themed three-movement title work SEEN (2019). Petric’s amazing bellows control shines in legato single-note melodies, and challenging high/low pitched contrasts. Robert May’s Fadensonnen (1994) is another exploration of varying accordion colour and meditative dynamics. Peter Hatch’s Pneuma (1986) is an interesting blend of accordion and electronics, from faint electronic high tones, rock-groove-like accents and held tones matching the acoustic accordion sound. There’s more traditional electronic washes, rumbles and echoing with driving accordion repeated detached chords in Erik Ross’ Leviathan (2008). 

The closer, Torbjörn Lundquist’s Metamorphoses (1964), is the only work not commissioned by Petric. A classic virtuosic solo accordion piece from the past, Petric plays many fast runs, accented chords, accelerando and short, almost-film-music sections with colourful ease.

All in all, great accordion sounds!

19 David TudorDavid Tudor – Rainforest IV
Composers Inside Electronics
Neuma 158 (neumarecords.org)

American avant-garde pianist turned electronic composer, David Tudor’s masterwork Rainforest had a long gestation. Beginning in 1968 Tudor created four distinct versions culminating in 1974 when he gathered a group of eager young composers, musicians, circuit benders and maverick solderers to form a “family” of collaborators. They called themselves Composers Inside Electronics (CIE).

Tudor’s initial concept was deceptively simple: a collection of mostly everyday objects are suspended in space and set into audible vibration by small electromagnetic transducers. Each object responds to input audio signals in idiosyncratically non-linear, unpredictable, changing ways. Serving as acoustic filters, the objects modify the sounds electronically fed into them.

As a visitor to Rainforest IV‘s Canadian premiere at York University in February 1975, I recall walking into the installation. The exhibition space was populated by transformed sculptural loudspeakers, the acoustic environment eerily evoking Tudor’s descriptive title. 

The CIE performance of Rainforest IV on this album was taped in 1977 at the Center for Music Experiment in San Diego. We’re greeted by a dense aural ecosystem of twittering, squawking and chattering sounds reminiscent perhaps of nighttime insects, amphibians, bird calls and choruses.  Clanging, clicking, whistling, sustained underwater and alien sounds slowly crossfade during the record’s almost 69 minutes. 

The scene was vividly captured by two musicians, who traversed slowly through the space, wearing binaural microphones on their heads. While not a definitive documentation of the work, listened to with headphones this evocative binaural recording is as close as you can get without being in the space. There’s something magical in Tudor’s synthetic forest of sight and sound.

01 Fisher GennaroTactile Stories
Colin Fisher; Mike Gennaro
Cacophonous Revival Recordings CRR-015 (cacophonousrevivalrecordings.bandcamp.com)

Following their first release, Sine Qua Non, guitarist and saxophonist Colin Fisher and drummer Mike Gennaro – two of Canada’s most visible improvising experimental musicians – have recorded their second album, Tactile Stories, an exhilarating four-track collection of free-improvised pieces. Fisher and Gennaro play off of one another with impressive musicality and effusive bravura. Their combined sound is lavish but never swanky and the delivery of ideas is as brilliant as it is ravenous – the two musicians truly connected in their improvisatory impetuses. 

The first track, Ex Nihilo is a powerful example of why Fisher and Gennaro have become some of the most in demand improvising experimental musicians in Canada. The music is virtuosity set free in the wild while making room for more contemplative interludes. Dynamic and driving explorations continue in the tracks Ekstasis and Epinoia while the track Esse offers a more sensitive atmosphere. 

Fisher’s guitar playing is a stunning combination of swells, prickly quirks and dramatic runs. Gennaro draws from an endless cache of stylistic realms that makes for a propulsive energy. Tactile Stories is exactly that – a collection of sonic narratives revealing why these two musicians are at the fore of free-improvised music.

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