The Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States: Music from SEAMUS Volume 27

About

SEAMUS continues its series of releasing new compilations of works by its electroacoustic composer members alongside back catalogue recording. Volume 27 features works by Carter Rice, Brian Sears, Russell Pinkston, Robert Seaback, Samuel Wells, Nathaniel Haering, Jason Bolte, and Timothy Page.

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SEAMUS continues its series of releasing new compilations of works by its electroacoustic composer members alongside back catalogue recording. Volume 27 features works by Carter Rice, Brian Sears, Russell Pinkston, Robert Seaback, Samuel Wells, Nathaniel Haering, Jason Bolte, and Timothy Page.

Scott L. Miller, SEAMUS Director of Recordings


Reviews

Fanfare

I reviewed two earlier discs in this annual series, and enjoyed both of them, albeit to different degrees, but this one is an order of magnitude more stimulating for me. That’s probably just the luck of the draw, and not an indication that standards are rising in the field of electro-acoustic music, particularly as these works were composed over a span of several years. It also could very well be that other listeners are making precisely the opposite observation!

Many of these works explore live interactions between traditional acoustic instruments, or voices, and electronics. Real-time processing allows the sounds created by live musicians to be modified as those sounds are being produced. In effect, new sounds—and some of them are fascinating—are being created. In a sense, that’s what electro-acoustic music is all about, and what is so forbidding about that? Some of the works, such as Robert Seaback’s Reprogram, sound entirely electronic, although that work uses vocal samples of a poem being recited. (You won’t be able to figure out which poem, unless your brain works differently than mine.) On the other hand, some listeners might not realize that electronics are in play at all during sections of Timothy Page’s Curl, because that work is dominated by a flute and a harp. (Curl is about “manipulating the ow of material.” That might seem like a painful pun, but I gather that “ow” is a mathematical concept.) Vox Clamantis, by Russell Pinkston, also is heavily weighted toward acoustic instruments—in this case, a flute and a violin.

SEAMUS, the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States, is a non-profit organization of composers, performers, and teachers all using electronic technology to create music in many different styles. It has annual conferences and a journal, and it encourages its members to create new works. In previous volumes, the works were chosen by votes cast at SEAMUS’s national conference, and I assume the same strategy was employed here. Previous winners of the “SEAMUS Award,” which recognizes contributors to the field of electro-acoustic music, include Wendy Carlos, Laurie Anderson, and Morton Subotnick.

What makes the works on this particular CD successful for me is the sense that they are telling a story or depicting one or more human emotions. There’s real drama here. The most dramatic piece of all is Nathaniel Harding’s Cimmerian Isolation. The adjective means “very dark or gloomy,” and the work “attempts to elicit imagery of a wealthy recluse living in cimmerian isolation in a decaying Victorian mansion, left only to themselves and descending into eventual madness.” A flute’s nervous flickering is combined with a range of extreme vocal gestures, electronically manipulated, and the result is highly unsettling—not to be heard, perhaps when you are home alone. Dreams Unwind, by Brian Sears, “traces the contemplation of disillusionment, the confusion of where time has gone, and how things could have ended up the way they are now.” The piano is a protagonist who is set upon by unfriendly or uncaring electronic influences. They take the piano’s sounds, distort them, and throw them back at the pianist. Here and on other pieces on this disc, an element of theater is strong. Electro-acoustic music does not have to be cold or analytical. Electro-acoustic techniques are just another means to a wide palette of expressive ends. Both Dreams Unwind and Curl are student works, which makes their maturity and polish even more impressive.

Electro-acoustic music can be forbiddingly avant-garde and it can be insultingly twee. The works on this CD all fall between those two poles, and they reveal a wide range of talent, techniques, and meaning. It would be a shame not to take a step or two out of your comfort zone and to give it a try. I think you will make some happy discoveries if you do.

-Raymond Tuttle, 11.26.18, Fanfare

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