Lee Weisert: Recesses

, composer


Composer Lee Weisert releases his second album on New Focus, Recesses, a follow up to the 2014 release, Wild Arc. Weisert is heard on piano, guitar, percussion, and electronics, and is joined by collaborators violinist Nicholas DiEugenio, vocalist Melissa Martin, saxophonist Matthew McClure, and Allen Anderson and Jonathon Kirk contribute additional electronics.


Lee Weisert’s Recesses inhabits a rarefied sonic world, marrying the quickly shifting timbres of the electronic world with an undercurrent of introspection that characterizes our interaction with it. He establishes immersive environments, lulling the listener into a tacit acceptance of an ambient reality, before removing the sound features in that environment and shifting the ground under the listener. The album exists in a series of dream states, but they project the quality of nonorganic reverie, an alternate fantasy world that is ultimately framed not by the heat of subconscious emotion but by the coolness of a motherboard. The local moments are poignant and evocative, while Weisert’s deft instinct for assembling them into a collage of captivating ephemeralities gives the album as a whole its beguiling quality.

The opening track, Part 1 of Recesses I, merges a series of granulated modular synthesis textures with washes of diatonic sound. Vocal samples of children’s voices, ethereal string harmonics, airy chords on a Fender Rhodes and melodic gestures on electric guitar ebb and flow in a hypnotizing fashion. We hear brief allusions to Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca and excerpts of orchestral strings as if we are slowly traversing the radio dial. Sustained tones undulate to the fore and back again before Weisert introduces a watery piano motif.

Part 2 opens with a multi-dimensional texture, as sustained tones crescendo over spoken vocal samples, while a harmonic halo gradually expands. A sudden cut takes us into more granulated territory, with glitchy scrapes accompanying a repetitive arpeggiated figure in the piano. Modal material frames much of the middle of the movement, with liquid harmonies floating over white noise pads and shrouded recordings of speech. Weisert emphasizes static, disjunct sounds for the remainder of the track, returning us to the broken collage of Part 1.

The opening of Recesses II focuses on hybrid timbres, assembling miniature symbiotic machines of sound envelopes that connect with each other. Weisert finds wonderful complementary sound combinations, balancing finely grained timbres with breathy sustained pads. Matthew McClure’s saxophone interjects with brief, skittering figures. Midway through the work, we hear a series of electronic pitches reminiscent of modem login sounds from the early days of the internet. Weisert leans into these digital sounds momentarily before reintroducing the haunting pads. The complex, fused timbres return towards the end of the work, with the electric guitar providing the melodic thread.

Similar Speeds opens with simultaneous attacks on electronically generated pitched percussion that incrementally phase and separate into arpeggiations, each with its own distinct rhythmic profile. At certain inflection points, rhythmic unisons are achieved momentarily before attacks become out of phase once again. At times, the texture evokes a gamelan orchestra, with a multidimensional profile of foreground, middle ground, and background elements.

Lee Weisert’s music on this recording balances meticulously designed timbres and intuitively driven structure. He has cultivated a sound world that moves seamlessly between diverse textures, allowing each to evolve as its own micro ecosystem. His collaborators violinist Nicholas DiEugenio, saxophonist Matthew McClure, vocalist Melissa Martin, and electronic musicians Allen Anderson and Jonathon Kirk provide Weisert material that is invested with the necessary local meaning and pathos to spin into his extended sound canvases. Recesses manages to do what many albums strive for and fall short of: express an album of wide affect from a diverse palette of material.

– Dan Lippel

Recording and Mixing by Lee Weisert
Mastered by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio
Album art by Tama Hochbaum
Design by Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com

Lee Weisert

Lee Weisert is a composer of instrumental and electronic music and an associate professor in the Music Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he teaches courses in composition, electronic music, and musicianship. He has degrees in music composition from the University of Colorado, California Institute of the Arts, and Northwestern University. His primary composition instructors were James Tenney, Michael Pisaro, Jay Alan Yim, and Chris Mercer.

Weisert’s recent music has incorporated increasingly disparate elements such as orchestral instruments, found sounds, field recordings, digital synthesis, and analog circuitry, in an attempt to find, “through experimentation, tinkering, and unconventional approaches, a ritualistic and deeply expressive world of sound” (Dan Lippel, New Focus Recordings). His instrumental music has been commissioned and performed by nationally recognized performers and ensembles including Stephen Drury, the Callithumpian Consort, ICE, JACK Quartet, Spektral Quartet, Wild Rumpus, Yarn/Wire, Matthew McClure, Clara Yang, and Joann Cho.

His electronic music has been presented at numerous national concerts and festivals, including ICMC, SEAMUS, and NIME. Along with composer Jonathon Kirk, he is a member of the Portable Acoustic Modification Laboratory (PAML), a collaborative sound installation team. PAML’s most recent project, Granular Wall, uses robotics and motion analysis technology to translate the fluid motions of thousands of floating microspheres into a musical composition. Lee and Jonathon presented their work at the 2014 TEDx Conference at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Weisert’s compositions and sound installations have received grant funding from New Music USA, the North Carolina Arts Council, the Illinois Arts Council, the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts, and the UNC Performing Arts Special Activities Fund. His music is published by New Focus Recordings. Wild Arc, his debut CD of original compositions, was released in 2014, and has been praised by critics as “dazzling” and “mind-melting.” Wild Arc is available for purchase online from Amazon, iTunes, and the New Focus Recordings label site.




Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical: April 2023

North Carolina composer and performer Lee Weisert unveils a dazzling universe of electro-acoustic sound on Recesses. The composer himself plays electric guitar, piano, and percussion, and a number of guest collaborators add other instrumentation, but ultimately it’s what the composer does with these sources at his mixing desk that forms the sure-handed development.

The bulk of this album is occupied by two iterations of the title track, in which electronics and acoustic sounds blend meticulously, steadily shifting focus in the most organic, seamless fashion. The wordless voice of Melissa Martin bleeds into ambiguous piano patterns, sizzling static, orphaned guitar chords, synthetic gurgles, and the swelling strings of violinist Nicholas DiEugenio, but ultimately it misses the point to pinpoint all of these evolving elements. The second version relies more on decidedly synthetic tones, but the rich blend is no less kaleidoscopic. “Similar Speeds” is a work for percussion—this account features electronically-generated sounds—that employs almost microscopic phasing, with each of eight percussive lines voicing one less quarter-note sound each, evoking either a mini-gamelan or a strummed, electronic zither. In the end it’s far more rewarding to get lost in these dense, hyper-detailed sound world and marvel at Weisert’s impressive, intuitive grasp on the entirety of these materials.

— Peter Margasak, 5.01.2023

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