Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 20-25, 2007
by Hubert Howe
The Sonorities Festival is the longest-running (over 30 years) new music festival in Northern Ireland. Run by the Sonic Arts Research Centre (SARC) at Queen’s University Belfast School of Music & Sonic Arts (the only academic department I have ever seen with that appellation), it brought together some of the most outstanding work in electroacoustic music from across the world. The festival used to be biennial, but it has been annual since 2006.
SARC has a really impressive facility called the Sonic Lab, which is in its own building. It is a performance and research space with a total of 48 loudspeakers on four distinct tiers. The audience walks in on the second level on a metal catwalk floor. The space is about 50 by 40 feet in length and width, and looking from the floor, there are nine roof platforms with theatrical lighting, loudspeakers and sound baffles about 30 feet up (in a later concert, I saw that these can be lowered to different heights); the ceiling is about 40 feet up. Beneath the floor there is about another 20 feet, also with surrounding loudspeakers. This is the only facility I have ever seen that allows sounds to be projected at the audience from below. Sound can be projected toward the audience from the same level, from above at a medium height, from way above, and from below. There are also projection screens, a centrally-located mixing console, a large stage area, and seats that can be moved into different configurations (although they were not changed during the festival). The floor is disconcerting at first, but once you get used to it, the sound is truly impressive. One of the best things is that the place is not torn down after a concert, but always available to the students and faculty who want to work with spatial elements.
Another interesting thing about SARC is that there is no “house style,” meaning that the composers there represent a multiplicity of stylistic viewpoints (not very common in other centers in Europe).
The festival presented seventeen concerts, although the final event was of traditional Irish music in a bar, and there were also ten lectures, panel discussions and such. In addition to the usual crowd of composers, performers and students, there were also several members of the public who came to the events, which were all pretty well attended, even the concerts that began at 10 and 11 PM.
The composers presented were an international group, including many from the United States whom I had seen at the SEAMUS and Florida festivals in the preceding weeks, but also many from Great Britain and Ireland, three concerts of music from Portugal, many from other parts of Europe, and also Turkey, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, and Hong Kong.
Salt Itinerary Opera
The festival opened with a presentation of the multimedia Salt Itinerary Opera by Portuguese composer Miguel Azguime. Combining video, live performance (mainly speaking) and electronic sounds, including amplifying and modifying the performer’s voice. The program note aptly stated that, “reflecting on art and madness, it revolves around languages, words as meaning and words as sound.” The composer was the only performer and character in the work. At the beginning, the video screens (there were two of them, sometimes showing the same, sometimes different images) showed eyes staring back at the audience, occasionally blinking. As it went on, the number of eyes in each screen increased, giving the weird impression of a multi-eyed being looking at you. It began with a rambling dialogue in Portuguese, and I was thinking that I regretted not understanding the language. As the opera went on, there were portions in English, French, Spanish and German as well, and by then I realized that it wouldn’t have mattered much. Words were repeated, stretched, and declaimed in strange ways and were more like poetry than prose, and they were used for their sound content as much as their meanings. The composer’s diction and presentation was very professional, like an actor. He wore a microphone much like a telephone operator, and the sound of his voice was processed and distributed through the speakers. The idea of madness was very relevant, for it was hard to discern any meaning in much of the work, which was rambling, repetitive and chaotic. The images on the screen changed to abstractions, usually monochromatic but with colors changing, until at the end turning to white, at which point there was a picture of what could have been a salt mine. At one point before this moment, he went behind the screen and later emerged wearing an all-white costume. The work lasted about an hour.
New Portuguese Electroacoustic Music
I didn’t take notes on this concert, and a day later I do not remember it in all that much clarity, so I won’t have much to say about it. All these works were similar in many ways. Têtrês (the title referring to a kind of apartment, the computer game Tetris, and a particular kind of house) by Antonio Sousa Dias had some very interesting bell-like sounds with a spectrum that shimmered up and down, which I thought were quite attractive. Many of these works used lots of percussive and noise sounds, and they were diffused well in the space.
Open Fader 1: Chamber Music
This interesting and diverse concert presented three works with a live performer, two of which I had recently heard at the SEAMUS conference in the United States, and four “tape” pieces. Andrew May’s A Room Full of Ghosts, expertly played on the piccolo by Elizabeth McNutt, enveloped the room with echoes of the live performance. Some of the sounds appeared to be prerecorded, but since they were on the same instrument and with the same player, it was hard to discern which, not that this would have mattered. The performing involved some very difficult and tricky maneuvers.
Bernadette Comac’s House Without Eyebrows was based on a poem of the same name by Irish poet Medbh McGuckian. It began with percussive sounds and some vocal sounds that led up to a recitation of the poem by its author, which concerned a devastating assault on her daughter by a sectarian mob. The music served mainly to illustrate and frame the reading.
Konrad Kaczmarek’s 32Grains_theater was for piano improvisation and live electronics, played by the composer. The piano part wasn’t all that interesting – mainly B-flat diatonic. It began in a “new agey” manner and progressed to a jazzy section and finally to a chordal section. Nevertheless, the interaction with the live electronics was quite interesting, with feedback loops and some stereophonic spatial movement.
Richard Bullen’s Freeze the Stereo, the title coming from a GRM tool used to create the work, was described as “a miniature exploration into the initiation and disintegration of a pulse.” While the title seemed to imply it was stereo, it was either multi-channel or manually diffused. A single sound accelerated into a pulsating sound that changed speed and loudness and eventually became a drone, used against breathing sounds and pitch changes, repeated tones against slow changing noises. It ended abruptly.
Elizabeth Hoffman’s folly for for improvised flute and tape, also played by Elizabeth McNutt, sounded very different from the performance of the same work I heard at SEAMUS, except for the tape part, which was created exclusively from samples of the same player’s flute. At times the tape overwhelmed the live player. The piece began with a collage of flute sounds, within which it was hard to discern the entrance of the live player. The live part consisted mainly of long, slow fading sounds with pitch inflections. There was a break before what sounded like a new movement (not announced in the program), which consisted of the same slow flute cacophony against noisy harpsichord-like tones and scraping sounds, while the flute played long tones with pitch bends, ending with a long, slow fade. While only stereo, the spatialization was good.
Chris Malloy’s short The Gliding Intervals, based on the poem by Andrew Gilchrist Haas, was created entirely with a synthetic voice. While some of the speech sounded real, the pitch inflections were so extreme that they emphasized the synthetic quality of the voice. The pitch of the voice ranged widely, and it had some crazy diction with the pitch changing from high to very low within single syllables.
Lydia Ayer’s short Catjak, the title intending to reflect both the Indonesian Kecak (monkey chant) and the cat, blended samples of actual cats meowing and dogs barking with people speaking the words “cat,” “meow,” “kitty,” “dog,” and “woof.” It was an anguished, expressive cat-cophony of these sounds, loud and percussive, ending with a final flourish.
The Smith Quartet, a group specializing in contemporary music, played a concert of mostly Portuguese quartets, the only exception being Steve Reich’s Triple Quartet. After coming onto the stage, the players attached contact microphones to their instruments, which meant that all works were miked and fed to the loudspeakers, making the concert louder than a straight string quartet. Emmanuel Nunes’ Chessed III was the only work with no improvisation. He has written a series of works called “Chessed,” which have something to do with the number 4. The composer claimed to “create a texture so dense that not every line could be followed,” which I guess he achieved, although I found I could follow much of it. In addition to regular bowed sounds, there was much pizzicato, tremolo, and other string effects. One of the interesting aspects of this work was the manner in which the players merged into and out of synchronicity. It was about 15 minutes.
The players put on headphones for João Pedro Oliveira’s Labyrinth for string quartet and tape. The tape part imitated the violin and added percussive and electronic tones to the mixture. It began with everything in a very high range, until finally the cello brought in some lower notes. There were both slow bowed glissandos and pizzicato fast glissandos. At times, the piece worked itself into a frenzy, the tape part adding both pitched and noisy percussive sounds as well as bell-like tones. This was followed by a slower section of long string tones against an agitated percussive tape part, also with thick string motifs and plucked glissandos, echoed in the tape. A third section brought back the bells and fast noises in the tape against sustained tones. The piece was about 10 minutes.
Miguel Azguime’s 16-minute Paraitre Parmi (the title means something like “appearance among”) was the longest piece on this concert, making him the composer whose music was heard the most on the festival by far. It was in four sections followed by a coda that strongly paralleled the movements of a classical string quartet. It began from a strong unison tone and moved from more or less tonal harmonies to scrapes and noises diffused all around the space. Though the composer claimed that the pitch selection as well as the rhythms, timbres and tempos had something to do with frequency modulation synthesis, I could not ascertain what he meant by this. The first movement or section was in a moderate tempo and in several parts, the second was fast, the third slow, and the last again fast, followed by a weird, very short coda. There were climaxes on unison high tones, short distorted tones, and passages that were in a synchronous rhythm and parts where every player was in his own universe. The players used many different timbres. The electronics sometimes paralleled the stringed instruments and moved their tones around the space, and at other times were a complete contrast. Beginning in the second section but becoming ever more important in the long slow section, the players began to play prominently out of tune. I don’t know how this was notated, whether they were playing microtones or just detuning individual notes, but effect was distinctive and strange. Having heard so much of Azguime’s music now, I can say that it is sometimes engaging and strong, but it is also obsessive and overly long. I would love to hear a piece where he uses the good parts of these works and doesn’t become carried away with all these intricacies
After intermission, the quartet played the premiere of Pedro Rebelo’s Shadow Quartet, which included four “prosthetic” violins. These were four violins suspended from the ceiling onto which transducers were attached from the rear, and they were used as loudspeakers for the electronic part. Supposedly the resonances of each of these violins had been analyzed and used to create pitch and harmonic structures. As loudspeakers, they were mostly mid-range, and they seemed to have a tendency to “ring” like microphone feedback (always squelched by the composer at the mixer). The quartet began standing in a line playing pizzicato tones before sitting down and playing a chord, while Chinese-like percussive tones emanated from the suspended violins. There were some interesting effects, such as long sustained tones where only the cello played vibrato, and slow glissandos against which water-like sounds flowed through the speaker-violins. At the end, it moved to a major triad, very much in tune. The piece was well played and received, but I had the uneasy feeling that the suspended violins were sending a not-so-subtle message to the quartet about the future of stringed instruments.
The last piece was Steve Reich’s Triple Quartet. Reich, a minimalist who has supposedly “altered the direction of musical history,” is one of my least-favorite composers, and this piece showed exactly why. It consists of many short sections, none of which is particularly objectionable in themselves, but all of which are repeated ad nauseam. Any interesting detail gets swamped by the obsessive repetition. There was a live quartet and a recorded one both playing pretty much the same material, although there are passages where the solo violin or other instruments plays against the tape part. While in a cycle of minor keys, there was no attempt at harmonic development or even chord progressions in a classical sense. Compared to the other works, it was unbearably simplistic. I have always felt that the reputation of Reich and his ilk, especially when considered “important” American music, has been amplified in order to downgrade the reputations of other American composers (if he’s the best we’ve got, then the rest of us must be really awful). Fortunately, on this festival, there was plenty of evidence that he’s not the best we have.
Open Fader 2: Live Electronics
I missed most of this concert.
Open Fader 3: SARC Electro
This was an overall good concert. It began with Marc Ainger’s Annotations for flute and computer, expertly played by Ann Stimson, who also was responsible for manually changing each of about 200 patches on the laptop computer. Most of the sound came from the flute, although sometimes the computer modified them in various ways. The computer also brought in either concrete or synthesized sound, all of which was produced in real time. The piece used no prerecorded sounds; the composer claimed that even the concrete elements were derived from the flute. It began with a flute burst that triggered explosive responses from the computer. Sometimes there was a series of “thunks” followed by a fast flute melody. There was an often-played motif where the flute played a fast melodic line that went up and down in a similar pattern, which was then echoed by the computer. The piece was long but never boring (that is indeed high praise from me!) and had a nice fade at the end.
Sarah O’Halloran’s The S Word included a video and was written after a friend of the composer described a sexual assault. The composer appeared as a live vocalist and began simply with panting, gasping and breathing sounds, which were frozen by the computer and played back as a looping drone, disseminated throughout the space. The loop ran throughout the 10-minute piece. The video showed a woman’s face which was framed by various semi-circular objects, and the visual images as well as the vocal sounds remained in a half-legible state throughout. At times the singer became more anguished. About halfway through the syllable “o” emerged, followed later by “ah” and then by “sit” or “tit” or “pit” (it was hard to tell, and even more so as the sound was swallowed by the loop), and later a “p” sound came in. Near the end a man’s face overlaid the woman’s, but all images receded into illegibility. A prominent motif of a rising fourth recurred in the loop. The piece was hypnotic and evocative.
Tullis Rennie’s Obscured by Words continued the vocal theme. The piece began with a sort of “chirp” out of which emerged lush, low, soft semi-metallic sounds. According to the composer, all sound sources came from three human voices, but they were transformed in profound ways, so that the only recognizable vocalisms were higher-range vowel-like sounds from which the consonants had been chopped off, although some short consonants could be heard. The piece was mostly quiet and had excellent octaphonic localization; it was one of the only pieces that you had to strain to hear. At various times, more distinct sounds emerged, such as muffled indistinct talking, a collage of speech-changing noises, and at one point, the word “say.” At about 5 minutes it became briefly louder, and then faded back to its gewneral softness. One of the most interesting aspects of the piece was simply the quality of the long sustained sounds, which constantly changed in subtle ways. At a little over 7 minutes, it ended before it became tiresome.
William Kleinsasser’s Quintuple Escapement was the highlight of this program. The whole piece was virtuosically performed by pianist Daniel Koppelman on a two-octave (!) MIDI controller, on which key depressions triggered new events on a laptop running a Max/MSP patch. There was an astounding variety of sounds (more than any other work heard so far on this festival) in each of the short bursts that came forth (in his program notes, the composer talked about the constraint of using 8-second sound bites). There were moving percussive streams against long tones, metallic tinkling sounds, sustained piano samples, and other sounds, sometimes diffused in an oscillating manner, taking advantage of the spatial qualities of the Sonic Lab.
Monday evening was devoted entirely to the American composer Mark Applebaum, who preceded his concert with a talk. He described his music as originating from “schizophrenia, narcissism, self-loathing, and compulsive exigent exegesis/hermetic hermeneutic disorder.” Actually, the way he said it sounded pretty intelligent. He described his musical universe emerging from jazz improvisation, instrument building, and new music composition. Being raised in Chicago, educated at Carleton College and UCSD, and teaching at Mississippi State and Stanford universities has brought him in touch with various musical cultures, which have sometimes supported but mainly, except for Stanford, discouraged his musical activities. All this has nurtured a fascinating and diverse range of works and expressions, as well as a warped but, in his own way, valid outlook on the nature of our musical culture.
The concert presented seven completely different works, hard to imagine being by the same composer. Intellectual Property showed his first-rate chops as a jazz pianist, where he basically improvised against a prerecorded improvisation of his own on a Yamaha Disklavier.
Next three “wristwatch” pieces performed simultaneously: 48 Objects, Wristwatch: Geology and Wristwatch: Meridian. There were sixteen players, all of whom wore wristwatches with various glyphs and icons on the faces. The players used all kinds of weird objects, most of them chosen by themselves, including rocks that were struck together, pieces of wood, a cowbell, saxophone (the only musical instrument), and such, and they were instructed to perform various actions when the second hand passed over various positions; but since the watches were not synchronized, they were performed “in canon.” The players, members of an improvisational group, surrounded the audience, and when Applebaum gave a cue and began to make popping sounds about halfway through, they began to move about and do different things. It was pretty much a chaos, but since the whole thing lasted only about 4 minutes, also quite amusing.
Variations on Variations on a Theme by Mozart did a John Cage-like “prepared piano” number on Mozart’s “Twinkle, twinkle” variations. Though there were a few passages where the original music (unaltered by Applebaum) did come through, for the most part it was unrecognizable except for the rhythm.
For me, the highlight of the evening was Mouseketier Praxis. The Mouseketier is the latest in a series of mousetrap-inspired “sound-sculptures.” This one consists of three amplified sound boards on which a variety of “found objects,” including combs (which Applebaum otherwise does not use), wheels, doorstops, nails, springs, various different lengths of metallic rods, and, of course, mousetraps. They are played with chopsticks, plectrums, knitting needles, a violin bow, and wind-up toys. All vibrations are picked up with contact microphones and fed into a variety of signal processors, including a laptop. The resulting cacophony is quite interesting, as are the ways Applebaum scrapes and bangs the devices. The whole event was captured by a live video that showed him performing the contraption (Applebaum called it the “narcissism camera”). This work had as much musical logic and interest as any of the “percussive” electronic pieces on the festival, and the visual element added to the interest.
Meditation was the next work. It is performed by three players on one piano, each reading from the same single page of music and playing the same music at different tempi in different octaves. It was slow and appropriately meditative, but I couldn’t follow the lines independently. While each pianist was in a different octave, the whole thing was in the upper range of the piano.
Plundergraphic, the next work, involved Applebaum at the piano, a saxophonist, two laptops, and an octaphonic “diffusion artist” at the mixing console. While there is a prerecorded 8-channel tape, the players each “interpret” warped graphic scores of other music by Applebaum (I am sure these works in themselves would make good poster art). What was notable about this performance was less “improvisation” than the “interpretation” of the scores, which was pretty vague. Applebaum himself knocked around on the piano with percussion sticks and mallets, scraped a mallet against the wood, banged the short stick, and did various things on top of the strings. This was another work where a different performance might not be recognized as the same piece.
The final work was Pre-Composition, where Applebaum has an octaphonic conversation with himself over how to compose an imagined work (never actually completed). This brought out the positive side of the schizophrenia that he mentioned in his pre-concert talk, where his multiple personalities conflict with one another. It is riotously funny, not in the least because many composers probably imagine some of the same conflicts within themselves as they contemplate composing their own music, even though Applebaum admits that he doesn’t actually compose pieces in the way that the characters do here.
Throughout all these works, it is clear that Applebaum’s ability and experience as a jazz improviser is what makes him so successful at bringing these works off. His schizophrenia, in the positive sense of containing multiple personalities at the same time, combined with his extraordinary creativity and energy, make him an unique asset in our contemporary culture.
Open Fader 4: Industrial
The theme of this concert was industrial sounds, and the pieces contained a good bit of noise. Overture Op. 1 Silenzio per favore by Italian composer Giuseppe Torre was “an invitation to silence.” It sounded like there may have been three separate tracks, although this could have been from manual diffusion. The piece consisted entirely of noise, and considering it was an invitation to silence, it was loud. It ended with a cute fade in and out of hiss. At just 3 minutes, it was quite tolerable.
Tae Hong Park’s T1 for live trumpet and octaphonic tape was played in a “studio” version with a recorded trumpet. The tape part was derived from signal processing of trumpet samples. It began with soft breathing and blowing through the trumpet, from which the noises grew and surrounded the room until it was overpowering. The trumpet playing was always very expressive. It began with a single line, and at about 2 minutes a muted trumpet was heard in counterpoint in the rear. At 2’45” the cacophony subsided and percussive muted trumpet tones entered. A trumpet ensemble, which could have involved the live player (but I couldn’t tell), was heard in the next section. At about 5’30”, low drone sounds entered and increased against an agitated trumpet line. There was a brief pause at about 6’15”, but 10 seconds later the whole thing was back even more strongly. Toward the end the drone increased and the rest of the material worked into a frenzy, until it faded. The piece was about 7 and a half minutes.
Paula Matthusen’s Rosenthaler was based on steel drum sounds. It began with what sounded like a telephone ringing, followed by drumming that soon surrounded the entire room. There was a high repeated noisy ringing and interesting organ-like chords. A white, crackling noise, which may have been in the original samples, was always part of the mix. A recurring high melody echoed across the room, over which various things faded in and out. The end was a soft noise decay. This material seemed just right to fit into the piece’s 5 minute duration.
Gordon Delap’s octaphonic Schlesingers Forge was full of rich multilayered sounds containing both pitched sounds, colored noises and a variety of percussive noise sounds. The work was mostly soft and subtle, and both this quality and the way in which different aspects of the sounds emerged out of the background reminded me or Tullis Rennie’s Obscured by Words. Some of the pitched sounds appeared in brief sequences, and some of the colored noises reminded me of a chorus, others breathing. Soft low sounds underlay long passages, sometimes dominating and then receding into the background. At about 3’30” into the piece a bunch of interesting sounds entered in crescendos, and the piece moved to a louder surface. Various parts sounded like an explosion, bell-like sounds, a steel bowl, and a water “bloop.” At about 6′ the music receded to the softness of the beginning, only occasionally rising and falling. The same material reappeared in different guises – it was so rich that any of these changes brought new aspects to the fore. Finally, at about 9′, it began to remind me of a receding thunderstorm, and it took about 40 seconds to fade to the ending. A really outstanding piece.
From here the concert went downhill, at least for me. The two remaining works violated one of the cardinal rules of electroacoustic music: people can take anything for about two minutes. That is about how long it takes the audience to orient themselves to what the composer is doing and decide whether it will be worth the effort. (Another such rule is that people can take anything that goes with a picture.)
Tony Higgins’ I’ll be there in ten minutes (it should have been called “I’ll be there in 14 minutes”) pitted the composer playing a drumkit against a tape. It began with a long drum roll, and various drum-like noises appeared in the rear speakers. There were some rim shots at about 1’50”, as the engineer at the console began jacking up the volume. It began to subside at about 3 minutes, and half a minute later the drum finally stopped and a series of crescendo noises took over. The drummer reentered with slower rhythms, playing all the drums and cymbals. He stopped at about 4’30” while noise entered, then the drummer, and then a recorded drummer in the rear. By 8’20” it was into a repetitive rhythm with occasional echoes in the rear speakers. Noises entered and faded, and rising pitches came in the rear and sometimes in the front. At one point the drummer banged with both sticks and moved his head from side to side in rhythm. Various pitched tones, ringing and other sounds entered, and finally the drummer made a big crescendo on a drum roll, working up a loud frenzy until the ending.
One of the main features of Henrique Iwao’s Contrabandistas de jeans furiosos ate as narinas (translated as “jeans smugglers furious up to the nostrils”; this gets my award for the most catchy title) was a repeating beeping sound in a regular rather slow rhythm going back and forth across the room, which went on through most of the piece. Over this, various sounds, including a crackling sound, a very low almost inaudible tone, and noises, faded in and out. While the piece was in stereo, the composer furiously worked the console to diffuse the sounds, and he certainly did move them about, although at one point when the beeping tones disappeared I thought he might have faded them out incorrectly. For a long time the beeping tones were at about 500 Hz (C above middle C), but at the point where the music subsided to its softest level, they began to change in pitch. Against this regularity, the composer tried to create a “line of passion,” after which the music returned to the texture of the beginning. It got very loud at about 9′ and ended suddenly.
Open Fader 5: Carte Blanche
There was no unifying theme for the music on this concert; “carte blanche” just meant that the SARC students had the opportunity to choose whatever they wanted for this concert.
The opening work, Anima Machina by UK composer Diana Simpson, set a very high standard, which the other works unfortunately failed to achieve. The idea behind the work involved people becoming more dependent on machines, not just the ones you might imagine but also tiny machines working at the atomic level, and with the fear of machines taking over. This idea could be heard in many of the sounds. It began softly with a variety of repeating sounds, including noises and pitched sounds with reverberation, changing in subtle ways, which surrounded the room. There was a climax at about 2′, followed by drums and a series of rapid crescendos in a rich thickening texture. There were fast repetitions at different increasing speeds, then a series of bursts followed by quiet over a soft gurgling background. Quick bursts left ringing resonances. Oscillations went back and forth across the room. The ringing resonances returned without the bursts, and noise spattered across the room. At about 10′, knocking sounds entered and built up. The composer diffused the piece manually. At about 12’40” there was a very loud pop, after which the piece subsided and came to a close at 13′. The repetitions and modulations effectively depicted the idea of machines, but the most important quality was simply the variety and interest of the sonic materials.
The Chilean composer Felipe Otondo’s Showtime blended recordings of salsa, mambo,
jazz and cha-cha-cha into an imaginary nightclub-like show with a bilingual (English and Spanish) master of ceremonies. Much of the surface blended the sound of a big band with prominent brass tones, a vocalist, and crowd sounds, which resembled both applause and background talking. All these elements moved into and out of the foreground overtaking one another at different times. Soon after the beginning, the emcee announced “it’s showtime,” followed by applause. At several times, the applause noise was transformed into and out of the sound of a heavy downpour. The salsa, mambo, and other elements brought contrasting rhythmic patterns to the surface and dominated different sections of the piece. Various instruments, such as flute, jazz chords, pizzicato bass, claves, snare drum and more, had brief solos, sometimes with interesting timbre changes that made them sound more like processed tones. At about 5′ there was a passage in octaves with a bowed bass and voice, and at 6′ the noise returned with more raucous singing. The emcee returned at about 8′, talking over the band, which he kept up for a long time (at one point it sounded like he was announcing credits). It finally faded and ended after about 11′.
Jo Thomas’ Girl was a strange piece, since much of the surface was full of scratches, clicks, cracks, beeps, short bursts, ringing tones, vocal sounds, and noises of the sort that, in most music, would be considered unwanted distortion. It was constantly choppy, with extreme dynamic changes, never blending into anything lasting more than a brief moment. Lots of it was distorted, although nothing lasted long enough for you to tell what it came from. The only aspect that did make sense was the chopped speech, which sounded like the sort of thing other electronic music composers have used. There was a text (“All is Air, All is World, All is Girl”). At about 2′ a loop involving the word “girl” could be heard, accompanied by a series of vowels in a regular rhythm. At 5′, it stopped and restarted. Most vocalisms were unintelligible. Toward the end there was a series of loud spurts and a passage of sounds repeated at about 1 Hz or faster. The composer stood while doing a manual diffusion, which mainly located the music in the front or rear. It was about 10′.
The next two works were both victims of computer crashes, the first one after about 5′ through (both works were about 10′), the second one at the beginning so it only delayed the start. Alo Allik’s Nimetamatu was aptly described by the composer as “neither a ‘piece’ in a traditional electroacoustic sense, nor a result of a certain performance or improvisation practice…. [but] an exercise in listening to a sonic narrative devoid of time and space…” [blah blah blah]. I would like to ask the composer, who has studied at Dutch and American universities, how such a thing could possibly be worth our listening to. The first five minutes were repeated (the only piece I heard any section of more than once), but on the second hearing, it made no more sense. Some of the sounds did have musical and non-musical qualities, such as speech sounds, single pitches, a complex chord, swooshing, horse clip-clops, hissing steam, ringing cymbals, spurts of noise, sandpaper smudges, bottle tones and even crickets. One effective aspect was the way the piece began with a slow crescendo from inaudibility, and there were some other good fades in and out. But there was literally no character to this piece.
I had pretty much the same reaction to Duo Juum’s A Bordo. The duo includes the Mexicans Gabriela Villa on viola and Hugo Solis on electronics, which consisted of a Kurzweil keyboard and a laptop computer. The work was totally improvised, the two alternating and joining one another seemingly at random. A single key depression brought forth a burst of sounds from the keyboard, while the violist played similar bursts in different ways, bowing, scraping, playing at the bridge, looping trills, high harmonics, high glissandos, etc. There were sudden dynamic changes between extremes. A few electronic sounds – a tinkling bell, gunshots, bouncing bubbles (yes), – were recognizable, but much was not. This is the kind of work that might be called “experimental,” but aren’t experiments supposed to prove or disprove something?
Open Fader 6: Ambient
I know I could be criticized for saying this, because this was the concert that included my own work, but this was also the most interesting concert yet presented at the festival. All of the works had various ambient qualities, which explains the title. There was an abundance of long, interesting, slowly-changing sounds that were full of richness and complexity, fading in and out against one another in fascinating ways. These were sometimes choreographed by spatial movements, reverberation, or changes in filtering. Often an event would sweep past your ears like a slow-moving thunderbolt leaving a trail of snow falling in its path. While these kinds of things happened in many of the pieces, the ways in which they occurred were very different, and although I am commenting on them after having heard the pieces only once, repeated listenings of these works would surely reveal other subtleties.
My own Macro Structure 2 began the program. Interestingly for works in which the composers have put so much effort in designing the sounds, mine was the only octaphonic work (one of the pieces was monaural!). I have to say that it was a joy hearing the piece in the space. I used all four tiers of loudspeakers, and the sound localizations and movements came across beautifully. One of the only issues for me was that the faders were so sensitive that the slightest change was audible, and I had to be very careful about the small movements I made, just for the purpose of exaggerating the dynamics. Unlike many of the multi-channel works, mine was completely pre-spatialized, with different components of the sound distributed into different locations and making slow changes over their durations. This is another festival on which I have appeared where mine is the only work that is completely synthesized, using neither prerecorded sounds nor live instruments, and one of the advantages of that procedure is that I have complete control over all of the components of my sounds in order to plan the diffusion.
The next work was Benoit Granier’s Vespers 1.0 from chaos to order. It began with a slow crescendo from silence, out of which a big noise emerged. Many sounds incorporated different kinds of pulsations and slow fades. There was a brief climax at about 2’50” that ended on a piercing tone, which then stopped, followed by the slow emergence of various high and low sounds fading in and out. The next passage was very ambient, with a series of low, slowly-changing gestures and pauses. At about 6′ a low filtered tone dominated, followed by succession of tones, ranging from single notes to hissing steam, that had various sorts of repeating qualities, ranging from “bouncing” and “knocking” to fast amplitude modulation. The ending was a slow fade to silence. The work was about 8′.
Matthew Adkin’s Chiba Dreams was intended to create the aura of a city soundscape, which was aptly portrayed by voices, water sounds and noises, many with slow oscillations. At times, an unintelligible conversation would emerge from the background, but it was not possible to discern the language spoken (the original recordings were made in Stockholm, Norwich and Dublin). A soft, noisy rumbling permeated the background, from which other sounds grew and subsided. At about 3′ a steady amplitude modulation occurred, and at about 5′ there were various tonal-like harmonies, although you could not tell what instruments they were played on. From then on, the piece seemed to include more tones that sounded like harmonies, although they were not so much chords as clusters, many with microtonal or bell-like spectra. Towards the end, various speeds of modulations ranging from tremolo to beating occurred, including more stops and starts than the rest of the piece. The entire work was about 15′.
Simon Mawhinney’s short Music for 1 Channel was the only monaural piece I have heard on a festival like this – ever, I think. It consisted of a series of three sine waves which were presented over and over in different, odd tunings, creating interesting beating effects, each tone fading in and out at a different rate from the others. As the composer said in his notes, “this creates audio-illusions which our brains interpret as little patterns.” It was like a minimalist etude, but far more interesting than anything else I would apply the “minimalist” adjective to.
Mitch Turner’s A la feminisca’ Berio Remix 2 was another short work that was a “remix” of the Sicilian song from Berio’s Folk Songs. Based on a recording that used acoustic instruments playing traditional melodies and harmonies, the basic material was pretty corny compared to the subtleties of the ambient pieces, but it was modified in ways that de-emphasized the traditional qualities. Nevertheless, it was impossible for the composer entirely to remove those aspects, so there were events very reminiscent of a chorus, voices, and singing that brought out diatonic melodies in a loop. The processing involved a lot of very sharp filtering and “ringing” somewhat like cymbals. This work also had minimalist qualities.
George Brunner’s Within/Without was imbued with subtle ambient qualities that pervaded every aspect of the piece. There was a wide variety of interesting source materials, including single tones, chords, bells, noises, sounds taken from recordings of (“natural”) insects, birds and mammals, and recorded (“human”) musical instruments, ranging from piano to Turkish finger cymbals. Almost every sound grew from near silence to a maximum and faded back to silence. Sometimes the foreground was dominated by a single event, and at other times a group of events overlapped one another. There were a couple of big climaxes, but the dynamics were constantly changing. One sequence about two-thirds of the way through was a veritable jungle, with drums, frogs croaking, a woodpecker, other birds, bells, and this slowly transformed into a more instrumental rendering of the same texture, with sine-tone sequences, sirens, drums, noises, and up-and-down filtering that emphasized individual overtones emerging in the harmonic series. After this big climax, the music faded, with a couple of brief flourishes at the end. The whole work was about 13’20”.
Finally, Erdem Helvacioglu’s Wounded Breath continued in the manner of Brunner’s work. The work was inspired by the depiction of an elderly lady in her death bed, grieving that her life has passed and she has not done many of the things she had hoped to do. The piece began with her “last moment,” where we heard brief gasps, cries and talking, and then progressed through a series of flashbacks depicting various moments in her life. The range of sounds is perhaps more broad than even Brunner’s or Adkins’ works, and mixed both human and mechanical noises and natural sounds; but it was more of a collage than the succession of slow fades that the other works were made of. Different passages were dominated by modulated tones (fairly fast, about 4-5 Hz), breathing noises, and sustained chords, sometimes filtered to bring out harmonics but not in the up-and-down manner of Brunner’s piece, and an omnipresent reverberation. The ending was a series of soft, plaintive chords, an occasional flashback to earlier parts of the piece, and a long last breath that depicted a genuine sadness. Helvacioglu diffused his piece at the console, and it was the most effective manual diffusion at the festival (Brunner also did a good job, but he seemed more concerned with overall levels). There were a few times when he caused sounds to move from one place to another, but he also used the different high and low tiers to isolate different passages. He had worked out a choreography that matched the different episodes in the piece.
Ensemble Recherche, based in Freiburg, Germany, is, as the program stated, “one of the most distinguished ensembles for contemporary music.” Appropriately, the players demonstrated their excellent abilities in playing some of the most complicated contemporary techniques without batting an eyelash. The program, however, did not provide notes, biographies, or even the names of the players, nor did they tune before playing. These purely instrumental works were by prominent mainstream European composers.
The first work was Mathias Spahlinger’s Fugitive Beauté for flute, oboe, bass clarinet, violin, viola and cello. Before playing, the flutist donned headphones, which probably contained a click track. At different times, he directed one group of players while the violinist directed another at a different tempo. The piece, however, was amorphous, in several long sections. It began from single tones with some multiphonics and microtuning. There were key clicks, pizzicato strings versus sustained winds, but otherwise mostly a thin pointillistic texture, with nothing like a real melody. Then there was a faster passage with gestures of clicking and pizzicatos ending in single wind tones (a rather neat effect). By 8′ this was a bit louder, with the clicks overlapping chords rather than just single tones. At 9′ a new passage began involving lots of detuning and a somewhat thicker texture. After about 5′ of this, the instruments gradually released their grip, returning at various moments in the succeeding passage. At 14′ it returned to something more like the opening texture. This passage had more of what you might call melodies, but with the instruments jumping all over. At 16′ a series of glissandos (both pitch glides and scale fragments) ran through all the instruments, and it ended after about 17′.
Next was Helmut Lachenmann’s Allegro sostenuto for piano, clarinet/bass clarinet, and cello. This was a demonstration (or better, a sales pitch) of new instrumental techniques and effects. It began with intense gestures alternating with quiet, thin passages. Sometimes similar effects were produced on the different instruments using different processes. The cellist played fairly long passages of glissandos, tremolos, pizzicatos, and bowings past the bridge. The pianist did a few inside-the-piano tricks (a rather neat one was running the fingernails across the front of the strings, producing a glissando-like run but with no sustaining) and fast runs on the keys. The clarinetist did lots of breathing through both the mouthpiece and the barrel of the instrument, and sometimes she blew onto the mouthpiece. At several moments she rose to blast a particular note into the body of the piano, which then rang at that pitch, since the pianist held down a key or the pedal. The overall texture was jumpy, with sudden changes and digressions veering off in unexpected ways. At 10′, there was a thin passage of just special effects, with only a few “regular” notes coming through every now and then. One minute later it became extremely agitated, and at 14′ all instruments played in unison. In the passage at about 21′, the bass clarinet played mainly breath sounds, and at 22′ it became pointillistic, reaching a climax at 23′. At 32′ the cellist played on the lowest string as she tuned it downwards, and the piece ended after about 33′ (the longest work on the festival except for Salt Itinerary Opera) with the cellist bowing empty noises on the strings past the bridge. This work received enthusiastic applause (obviously, the sale was made, but my impression was that the audience bought the performance more than the piece).
Finally, the group played Improvisé – pour le Dr. K by Pierre Boulez. This short (2′!) work for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano was a series of impassioned gestures, each growing out of a sort of germ at the beginning. While it had some of the jumpy rhythms, sudden turns and fast changes of the other pieces, it had none of their pointillistic emptiness. It got my attention.
George Lewis and Barry Guy
Tuesday evening’s concert was devoted to the work of two prominent jazz improvisers, George Lewis on trombone and Barry Guy on bass. But maybe the real star of this concert was an interactive computer program developed by George Lewis over many years. It was running on a Macintosh laptop that played a Yamaha Disklavier piano, and thus all the music was acoustic.
The music began when Lewis started the computer running on its own and walked away. For over 5 minutes, the piano played short, choppy phrases running up and down the keyboard, occasionally pausing. I would say it could be called experimental jazz, but it also had many of the characteristics of avant-garde music. Then Guy walked on stage and started improvising against the computer, often following its gestures and trying to take them in a different direction. His playing was also full of fancy avant-garde techniques, including rubbing the instrument and playing the strings with soft percussion mallets and drumsticks, weird kinds of bowings, and extreme changes in tempo. Lewis occasionally went and adjusted something on the laptop, but he did not join the fray until Guy had been playing on his own for at least 10 minutes, and when doing so he did many of the same things that Guy had done, trying to both follow and lead the ensemble, and also using a range of avant-garde techniques. There were sections that moved in very different tempos, passages that emphasized strong vibratos, trombone glissandos versus bass tremolos, and everything else you could imagine. An interesting moment occurred when the piano briefly stopped, leaving Lewis and Guy temporarily on their own. The whole number lasted between 45 and 50 minutes. After bows, the two played a slower contrasting “encore” of about 5 minutes.
The performance was followed by an after-concert discussion with the audience. While not explaining it in detail, Lewis revealed that the secret of his computer program is that it listens to the players, but only in respect to four basic parameters: whether their notes are high or low, short or long, fast or slow, and soft or loud, and when it senses that any of this is becoming too regular, it then changes those qualities of its own playing to move in a different direction. He also revealed that his adjustments at the laptop were only to change the level, when he felt the overall piano playing was too soft or loud. The discussion was rambling and touched on all kinds of extraneous topics. Both players have engaging personalities, but Lewis would frequently take the questions off in unexpected tangents. I had the feeling it could go on all night, but I don’t know, since I left after about the same length of time as the music itself.
Kairos is the University of Manchester’s student electroacoustic ensemble, specializing in improvisation and “semi-improvisation.” Of the five works they played on their first program, two were improvisations with no composer credited, and one was an interpretation of Earle Brown’s graphic score December 1952.
The program began with Eric Lyon’s Introduction and Allegro, the strongest work on the concert. It was for flute, violin, cello, percussion, and two laptops, one of which was a sound diffuser and the other was the composer recording the music and manipulating it for playback. The piece was in several distinct sections, each with its own character, which ranged from “new-agey” to a more frantic avant-gardism. It began with a series of conventional chords with echoes in a regular rhythm, about 1-2 Hz. Detunings and bell-like sounds gave rise to a diatonic passage of minor triads and trills with softer echoes. At 3′ the sound panned around the room, the music stopped, and recorded material from the first part came back. It was transposed down, the rhythm slowing. Different repeats emerged. At 5′ a faster passage (presumably the allegro) began. The players merged in unison on a high shrill tone before the music veered off and slowed to a bunch of string scrapes, short bursts, drums and long tones. At 7′ it became slower and more triadic again. A recorded violin tone was played against the live violin, and big glissandos took the music to different plateaus. At about 8’45” began a series of repeated riffs, prominently including a sol-fa-me-re-do sequence on the flute, looped by the computer. At 9’45” a series of major thirds with glissandos and noises moved up and down, the tempo slowing. At 10’45” there was an extended passage for the computer-composer, who shook his head back and forth in tempo. At 12’10” the instruments returned to a jazzy section, trailing off after about a minute. At 13’40” the fast tempo returned with occasional starts and stop, and this continued through another unison until slowing between 15′ and 16′. This led to a passage that I would describe as a cadenza for the computer, after which the instruments rejoined him until a long downward glissando brought the work to its end at about 17′.
Next, the group did a 5′ improvisation by the ensemble. The leader of the group (none of their names were on the program) took a piece of paper, which he crinkled, rubbed against the microphone, rolled up into a ball, and tore, a piece of plastic, with which he did similar things, and a small plastic object, which he rapped against the music stand, while students on 4 laptops manipulated, looped and spatialized these sounds.
This was followed by a piece called Voices which was credited to the whole ensemble, playing a solo violin and four laptops. Soft noises emerged, the violin entering after about a minute. She started with very soft bowing noises, and these reemerged as surface noises from the speakers. Throughout the piece, sounds rose from and faded back into the background. Vocal, then choral sounds came in. The violin played faster. Some speech sounds, like “uh,” baby noises and burping entered. It built up and died away in a slow fade after about 7′.
Next was the second work credited to a composer, Manuella Blackburn’s …In Response. This was for bass flute and one laptop. The game was that the flute and the laptop tried to respond to each other. The flute began with short overblown tones. The laptop picked these up and distributed them to the speakers. It was in stereo, diffused to the rear. At 2′, long complex tones entered, moving about. The player continued in spurts, then shifting to long tones. The laptop took these and diced them into pieces. When the computer played the chopped tones, the flutist played long tones, and they faded into and out of synchronization. It ended suddenly after about 5′.
Finally, the group played Earle Brown’s December 1952, one of the first graphic scores, using piano, bass flute, guitar, percussion and 4 laptops. The game with this one was that the poster-type score could be followed from any point, different players being free to go in different directions. Instrumental tones emerged from the laptops. At various times the flutist left the stage and walked around, the percussionist blew through the clarinet (not with the reed), the flutist played the piano, and the pianist sang. The piece was thin and boring, lasting about 6′.
A few hours later the group gave a second concert, consisting entirely of a single improvisation. There was a guest guitarist on stage with 4 laptops and a sound diffuser at the mixing console. The flute and violin were in the audience, and a vocalist stood in the basement under the audience. The other concert seemed to be based entirely on sounds that were produced by the players (including sounds of paper tearing and such), and this could have been the case too, although it sounded to me like some recorded sources were also used.
The piece began with a slow crescendo, a kind of wandering noise, that filled the room, making use of the different tiers of loudspeakers. It was filtered to emphasize different timbres, and the guitar entered with soft twangs. Some sounds were looped. At 4′ the speakers died out while the guitar continued his repetitive playing. New sounds entered with wide vibrato, sounding like flowing water or surf. All sounds were quite slow, but constant modulations imbued them with a sense of rhythm, matched by the guitarist’s repetitions. At 8′, more new sounds entered with faster amplitude modulation of the underlying slow sounds. The water motif continued, working up to a jungle by 11′. By this time we could hear the flute and violin. The slowness of everything gave the music a “new age” ambience. For quite a while the flute and violin were the only instrumental sounds in the mix. I was beginning to get bored. At 18′ bells entered, and the music stopped briefly at about 19′. As it restarted, we could hear the vocalist softly sustaining something like “waa – yeow.” New voices entered, detuned from one another. There was a gasp, and the singer emitted “ooh” and “aah.” These were looped and traveled around the room. More extreme layers developed, with parts of words against sustained vocal sounds. At 22′ there were some speech fragments, and at 23′ a “ch-ch” sound repeated rhythmically against echoes, clicks, “shh” sounds and other high hisses. Birds entered at 24′, moving agitatedly around the room. At 25′ percussive repetitions entered with instrumental and speech nuances. All this was building, but only to a medium boil. At 26′ the guitar joined in, tapping the strings with his fingers. It slowed, and at 26’30” a drone entered. The voices were gone, replaced by whistles, percussion, sandpaper, bottle tones and drums. By 28′, “chops” predominated, the tempo of the repeats slowing. Overall, it began to get louder, then softer. By 30′ a chorus entered in low fading sounds. Sounds had harmonic qualities, but by 32′ there were nonharmonic clusters and the repeating guitar. At 34′ it was building in level as the guitar was becoming more agitated and drums entered. By 36′ the guitarist was hitting the strings with his knuckles, and the music reached a climax. At 37′ it started to recede, as noises like gunshots entered. There was a big downward glissando, and it faded to a conclusion at about 38′.
That description gives you some of the idea of the drama in a piece like this. The students were very adept at these techniques, and some of the music was compelling. The good thing about improvisation groups like Kairos is that they give the students an opportunity to explore the vast repertory of transformations they can perform on instrumental and vocal sounds in live performance, and recorded sounds in the studio. But exploring a sound world is one thing, and composing music is another. After working extensively with these materials, composers will usually develop some ideas about how to connect sounds and shape them into compositions. At that point they also have to confront the idea of making choices and deciding on one idea rather than another. This is, after all, why composers write scores that fix notes, dynamics and other indications that define the music. Improvisers seem to want to have it both ways (actually, many ways), to keep playing with the materials but never actually deciding on one form of the composition. At this point in time, they might argue that it doesn’t matter, since the audience (whoever they are) probably doesn’t care one way or the other. As I kept listening to this long concert, I began to wish that it had a more unitary perspective that a single composer’s voice would provide.
Ensemble Recherche: Music of Salvatore Sciarrino
Salvatore Sciarrino’s music is difficult to understand, and it is rare to hear more than a single work on a concert. This program was presented in honor of his 60th birthday, and I know that the works played were written over a span of many years (from 1975 to 1999), but, like the other concert by the ensemble, this program provided no program notes or names of performers.
Sciarrino is an Italian minimalist whose music is built out of extremely soft, barely audible sounds incorporating a range of new-music techniques, including key clicks, blowing air through wind instruments, multiphonics, string harmonics, empty spaces, quick gestures, and amorphous forms that involve few repetitions or developments of material. There are almost no tones that are held for more than the shortest duration, and there are few passages that rise above the threshold of audibility. I would think that few of these qualities could be transferred to a recording, but this concert was recorded by the BBC radio. Much of the music played tonight also had an edgy, tense feeling, due in part to the predominance of string tremolos, trills and multiphonics. In some ways, perhaps the music is so intimidating that very little has been written about it, more about the few performers who have attempted to play it. The real meaning of the music seems to lie in his short gestures, but I can’t say I’m even certain of that after hearing a whole concert of it. While we may not understand the music, at least I felt that it was played well on this occasion.
Centauro Marino (“marine centaur”) is for clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano. It began with very soft piano chords and string tremolos. At 2′, the piano played a few fast clusters, and the clarinet entered softly on a single tone. Then there was a short, loud flare-up, followed by a clarinet trill at 3′. Several soft, small glissandos were played on the strings in a shape rather like a slow sine wave. There was a brief climax at 5′, then a return to softness, ending at about 6′.
At 11′, Omaggio a Buri (“homage to Buri”) was the longest piece on the program. Scored for alto flute, bass clarinet and violin, it begins with soft tremolos with finger clicks, a motif that recurred often. Sometimes we just heard the clicks of the finger hitting the key, and sometimes the pitch would ring through. The flutist blew through his instrument making no sound but that of his breath. At 1′ there were a few loud tones with pauses of a second or so, then a meandering violin glissando. The flute began clicking his keys regularly like a clock. At about 3′ to 4′ this transferred to the clarinet. There were a few fits and starts. A 3-note texture began with key clicks and crescendos from empty air or bow noise up to the point you could hear a tone and back down. The outside traffic was louder than the music. At the ending, the violist moved her bow in the same rhythm without making a sound.
Codex Purpureus (“purple codex”?) is a string trio. It began with soft trills in crescendo-diminuendo patterns and slow glissandos up and down. A high violin went off into a meandering tune in harmonics. It was barely audible for long stretches. At 7′ there were a few loud swoops in the violin and viola while the cello played a single tone. There was a pause at 8′, and then the same texture resumed. The cello made slow downward glissandos, and at 10′ it suddenly stopped.
Lo Spazio Inverso (“inverse space”) is a quintet for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and celeste. It began with soft clarinet multiphonics against soft harmonies in the strings. Occasionally the celeste would enter with spurts of clusters, rising above the normal pianissimo. The clarinet kept up a rhythm repeating the multiphonics throughout the piece, which lasted about 7′.
Muro D’orizzonte (“wall of horizon’) is scored for alto flute, bass clarinet and English horn. The entire piece consists of short “snorts” in repeating rhythms. At the beginning, the flute and English horn played just key clicks, but later they played tones and multiphonics in very short durations of something like a hundredth of a second. In a later passage, just the flutist’s breath was heard with no tone, but finally there was a soft trill, joined by the other instruments. At about 7′, the English horn held a high multiphonic tone for a very long duration, making a smooth crescendo and diminuendo and then sustaining it softly for several seconds. This was around the same time that the clarinet made a long, soft multiphonic glissando. I can’t imagine how difficult these were to play, but the players didn’t bat an eyelash.
The final work was (the first) Trio for violin, cello and piano. This was the only work that reached a moderate dynamic level. It began loud, and the pianist interjected many short, loud bursts into the music as it went on. Much of the music was very high, with few forays into the lower registers. The strings played lots of trills. There was a brief cello solo near the end, which was about 9.5′.
The performers were cheered at the end, receiving three curtain calls. Their playing and dedication to the music was impressive. It was very interesting to contrast this music with the electroacoustic music that was the focus of much of the festival (all the “open fader” concerts and some of the chamber concerts as well). Electroacoustic composers are in touch with the sounds they are using, which they shape into the compositions they create. Instrumental music is different, of course, but Sciarrino is at an extreme rarely reached by any other notated music. In his case, the music is really in the notation and in the drama of the players trying to execute his cryptic directions. I don’t think it is about sound all that much. One performance will be different from another, but even when his music is played about as well as it could possibly be, as it was on this occasion, it is still not clear what he is driving at. Personally, I would not bet that music which is so uncertain about its sonic being has much chance of lasting.