Eric Moe: Uncanny Affable Machines

, composer


Pittsburgh based composer Eric Moe releases a new compilation of several of his works for solo instrument with and without electronics, all of which engage with the concept of mechanization, whether it be the interaction between a fixed media part and a live performer, or the mechanics of physicality of performing on an instrument itself. Featured performers include violist Jessica Meyer, flutist Lindsey Goodman, percussionist Paul Vaillancourt, pipa virtuoso Yihan Chen, and Moe himself on piano.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 55:21
01Cross Chop
Cross Chop
Paul Vaillancourt, drumset9:31
02Uncanny Affable Machines
Uncanny Affable Machines
Jessica Meyer, viola9:40
03And No Birds Sing
And No Birds Sing
Eric Moe, keyboard9:03
04The Sun Beats the Mountain Like a Drum
The Sun Beats the Mountain Like a Drum
Yihan Chen, pipa8:52
05Frozen Rain, Summer Dreams
Frozen Rain, Summer Dreams
Eric Moe, piano8:19
06Let Me Tell U About R Specials
Let Me Tell U About R Specials
Lindsey Goodman, flute9:56

Composer Eric Moe draws from a wide well of influences, integrating various elements from across the aesthetic spectrum into music that is rhythmically propulsive and preserves an emphasis on melodic development and harmonic context. The works on his latest collection, “Uncanny Affable Machines”, are all engaged, in one form or another, with the paradigm of human/machine interaction. Firmly within a polemical tradition related to electro-acoustic composition, Moe engages with the complex dynamics suggested by a performance involving a live human and a pre-recorded track. Many of the sounds on the playback are “organic” themselves, however, involving manipulated recordings of human performers, or recorded sounds from the environment. And of course, in order to coordinate with the playback, a live performer needs to discipline themselves to execute the passagework precisely with the tape each time, making themselves more machine-like. This is just one of the ways that the medium invites us into a fascinating dialogue blurring the lines between the technological and the human, and Moe is acutely aware of this in his approach. Three of the works are scored for live performer with fixed media. The title track, for viola and playback, performed here by counter)induction violist Jessica Meyer, an infectious pulse propels the electronic part as the live instrument dances around the texture in quasi ritualistic fashion. The Sun Beats the Mountain Like a Drum is a related piece in the sense that the electronics provides a rhythmic environment over which the pipa, performed here by Yihan Chen, plays rolling tremolos and phrases with poignant bent notes. Moe revels in stylistic collage here, placing various cultural references into the tape part and allowing them to collide and transform each other. The inspiration for Let Me Tell U About R Specials is a commonplace scene - a contemporary American restaurant. Moe uses typical phrases from a server, such as “I’m Patti, I’ll be helping you out this evening” and “what can I start you off with?” as the material for the electronic part. The flute part then takes on a coloristic, narrative role, lending distance and commentary on the experience. The structure of the piece is shaped by the text itself, so the closing lines, “Have a nice night” frame the end of the piece as they would the experience of a meal. The other three works on the program engage with the mechanical through the lens of conventional instrumental technique itself. Cross Shop is written for solo drumset and sets up a relentless moto perpetuo texture as Moe takes us through different beats, rhythmic feels, and stylistic references. Moe, an accomplished performer as well, is the pianist on the two remaining tracks, the atmospheric Frozen Rain, Summer Dreams, and the otherworldly world of And No Birds Sing, a work written for an electronic keyboard tuned in a 19 note per octave scale.

- D. Lippel

  • Track 1 recorded by Brad Andrews, Loft Recording Studios
  • Tracks 2, 4, 5 recorded by Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio
  • Tracks 3 and 6 recorded by Herman Pearl at Tuff Sound Recording
  • Produced by Eric Moe 
  • Design and layout by Elana Schlenker
  • All works published by Dead Elf Music

Eric Moe

Eric Moe (b. 1954), composer of what the NY Times has called “music of winning exuberance,” has received numerous grants and awards for his work, including the Lakond Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Guggenheim Fellowship; commissions from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Fromm Foundation, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Barlow Endowment, Meet-the-Composer USA, and New Music USA; fellowships from the Wellesley Composer's Conference and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; and residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Bellagio, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the UCross Foundation, the Camargo Foundation, the Aaron Copland House, the Millay Colony, the Ragdale Foundation, the Montana Artists Refuge, the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians, the Hambidge Center, and the American Dance Festival, among others.

Tri-Stan, his sit-trag/one-woman opera on a text by David Foster Wallace, premiered by Sequitur in 2005, was hailed by the New York Times as “a blockbuster” and “a tour de force,” a work of “inspired weight” that “subversively inscribes classical music into pop culture.” In its review of the piece, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette concluded, “it is one of those rare works that transcends the cultural divide while still being rooted in both sides.” The work is available on a Koch International Classics compact disc. Strange Exclaiming Music, a CD featuring Moe’s recent chamber music, was released by Naxos in July 2009 as part of their American Classics series; Fanfare magazine described it as “wonderfully inventive, often joyful, occasionally melancholy, highly rhythmic, frequently irreverent, absolutely eclectic, and always high-octane music.” Kick & Ride, on the bmop/sound label, was picked by WQXR for album of the week: “…it’s completely easy to succumb to the beats and rhythms that come out of Moe’s fantastical imaginarium, a headspace that ties together the free-flowing atonality of Alban Berg with the guttural rumblings of Samuel Barber’s Medea, adding in a healthy dose of superhuman strength.” Other all-Moe CDs are available on New World Records (Meanwhile Back At The Ranch), Albany Records (Kicking and Screaming, Up & At ‘Em, Siren Songs), and Centaur (On the Tip of My Tongue). The Sienese Shredder, a fine arts journal, includes an all-Moe CD as part of its third issue.

As a pianist and keyboardist, Moe has premiered and performed works by a wide variety of composers. His playing can be heard on the Koch, CRI, Mode, Albany, New World Records and Innova labels in the music of John Cage, Roger Zahab, Marc-Antonio Consoli, Mathew Rosenblum, Jay Reise, Ezra Sims, David Keberle, Felix Draeseke, and many others in addition to his own. His solo recording The Waltz Project Revisited - New Waltzes for Piano, a CD of waltzes for piano by two generations of American composers, was released in 2004 on Albany. Gramophone magazine said of the CD, “Moe’s command of the varied styles is nothing short of remarkable.” A founding member of the San Francisco-based EARPLAY ensemble, he currently co-directs the Music on the Edge new music concert series in Pittsburgh. Moe studied composition at Princeton University (A.B.) and at the University of California at Berkeley (M.A., Ph.D.). He is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of Pittsburgh and has held visiting professorships at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania. More information is available at his website,


Midwest Record

Just to make easy jumps here, some times it feels like progressive music is divided in Steve Reich and everyone else. Moe definitely falls on the Steve Reich side of the line. A long time progressive music staple, this cat is wonderfully adept at not making an extended drum solo sound like pots and pans music---a feat that gets him high marks on that alone. A left leaning ear opener that wondrously invites everyone into the tent, be careful falling in love with this because that will open your ears to too many manqué. Killer stuff that feels like thinking man’s music for is really fun for all.

-Chris Spector, 8.4.2018, Midwest Record

Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical August 2018

This bracing portrait album by Eric Moe offers six disparate solo pieces, half of which require the performer to interact with electronic or pre-recorded elements. The composer clearly has a penchant for pulling phrases apart, not only in the electronic elements, but in his written scores. Cross Chop opens the album with a giddy rush; Paul Vaillancourt gives a stunning reading on the drum kit, starting with a straight-up adaptation of the trademark opening rhythm of the Surfaris’ classic “Wipe Out.” But instead of falling into a dance groove, the music shifts radically into a dizzying display of polyrhythmic, melodic power—a fully notated drum solo that could bring fans to their feet in a rock club. And No Birds Sing is a solo piano piece, performed by Moe, on a grand piano retuned with 19 notes to each octave—an absurd proposition—to deliver a work of triumphant dissonance and otherworldliness. Of the interactive pieces, on the title track violist Jessica Meyer tangles with a chaotic fabric of percussive, electronic pings, and abstract gurgles, while Yihan Chen’s pipa-playing on The Sun Beats the Mountain Like a Drum contrasts with a variety of global percussion traditions, from Afro-Cuban congas to Indian tabla, to say nothing of some ghostly work song chants.

-Peter Margasak, 8.28.2018, Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical August 2018

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