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.
|Nicholas DiEugenio, violin, Melissa Martin, vocals, Matthew McClure, saxophone, Lee Weisert, electronics, guitar, percussion, & piano||16:12|
|Nicholas DiEugenio, violin, Jonathon Kirk, electronics, Melissa Martin, vocals, Matthew McClure, saxophone, Lee Weisert, electronics, guitar, percussion, & piano||13:47|
|Allen Anderson, modular synthesis, Matthew McClure, saxophone, Lee Weisert, electronics, guitar, percussion, & piano||15:06|
|Lee Weisert, Lee Weisert, electronics||6:22|
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 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.http://www.leeweisert.com
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
Unlike cellist Croisé, cellist Thornton did not compose the works he interprets – but Lee Weisert (born 1978) did compose the pieces he and colleagues present on another New Focus Recordings release. His instrument, however, is not the cello: Weisert holds forth on piano, guitar, percussion, and electronics, along with participants Allen Anderson (modular synthesis), Nicholas DiEugenio (violin), Jonathon Kirk (electronics), Melissa Martin (vocals), and Matthew McClure (saxophone). These instruments invite listeners to a very eclectic collection of sounds indeed, and that is just what Weisert provides in Recesses and Similar Speeds. Nearly the entire CD is devoted to Recesses, which is subdivided as Recesses I and Recesses II, the first of them being further broken into two portions. To anyone not thoroughly versed in, familiar with and enthusiastic about electronic music, all the material is going to sound very much alike. The first part of Recesses I has the usual background-ish electronic sounds with some foreground material such as children’s voices and occasional snippets of orchestral strings. The second part also mixes electronically generated tones (more individualized in this section) with vocal bits and pieces and occasional far-in-the-background consonances over which the foreground electronic waves wash incessantly. Recesses II starts as if it is growling, then turns into a series of unsurprising clicks, grunts, taps and individual piano notes, all within the usual outer-space-sounding envelope of so much electronic music. In all, the Recesses elements take up 45 of the 51 minutes on the disc, which turns Similar Speeds into a kind of six-minute encore presented purely by Weisert. The work sounds like a procession of electronically generated and/or enhanced gamelan or other metallophone material, with frequent rhythmic changes that provide more-interesting variability than anything in Recesses – and the added plus that Similar Speeds is so much shorter that it spends much less time dwelling on its sonic profile. All this music is for a very narrow, strongly committed audience that is determinedly avant-garde and wedded to the notion of the power of electronics to produce engaging audio material. Those self-regarding cognoscenti will find much in this material to intrigue them. But anyone who is not already a member of the “in” group is highly unlikely to be drawn into it by experiencing anything on offer here.
As electronic music has evolved, one branch moved away from avant-garde daring, confrontation, and anarchic aesthetics, taking a direction akin to mainstream music in one important respect: it became enjoyable. I hadn’t encountered the creations of Lee Weisert, who holds a professorship in the music department of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, but the three works on this digital album evoke adjectives suitable for Debussy: atmospheric, luminous, delicate, refined, subtle—and enjoyable. Without belonging to the coterie of dedicated New Music followers, a general listener can become immersed in Weisert’s soundscapes on their own terms, an immersion that is more introspective than dramatic (another link to Debussy).
The genre here is electro-acoustic, and the contour of each piece is loose enough to be described as a collage, although I readily accept that each composition is intuitively structured by the composer, as the program notes tell us. New Focus provides some of the most helpful and illuminating program annotation for some of the most obscure, even obdurate, New Music. That’s not really necessary here, however, because these pieces are self-explanatory: acoustic fragments, often diatonic and melodic (there’s even a passing reference to Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca) are blended or contrasted with a shifting, dynamic mosaic of electronics.
The mix rarely deviates from natural or quasi-natural sounds. In Recesses I, Part I, the sound picture is accessible through methods that aren’t jargon-ridden or overloaded with techno-speak: “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.” That’s a fair description of the listening experience throughout; the notes make a point about the sustained or continuous affect that emerges from a wide range of effects.
Another link to Debussy might be the intricate detailing to which Weisert subjects his sounds. In the space of a few seconds dots and dashes of clipped sounds, overheard voices, and single notes on the piano rush by, but are so carefully organized (hence the introduction of “intuitively structured”) that a sustained line is created for the listener to engage with. I’m impressed with the way that Weisert, described at UNC’s website as a “multimedia sound artist,” is so convincingly artistic in using such fleeting sounds. Perhaps the pointillism of Georges Seurat is just as apt as any reference to Debussy. Close up, you hear points of sound, but backing away, an overall image emerges.
It would be futile to anatomize each point, not only because they range so vastly—from clicks to tidal sounds, from stummed guitar to static, from faint scraping to tuned bells—but also because there’s no conventional way to relate one point to the next. Recesses I and II, together lasting 44 minutes, are so alike as to form one listening experience, which is in sharp contrast with Similar Speeds. It, as the title implies, focuses on the elements of timing and rhythm. Metallic blips, whose timbre is like gamelan or perhaps Jamaican steelpan, start out in a synchronized stream that diverges into separate micro-patterns that become more and more disjunct. This experiment in dislocated tones wasn’t something I could appreciate—I was irritated two minutes into a six-minute work whose appeal, beyond abstract de-synchronization, is beyond me.
Naturally, since this digital release is to be accessed through streaming or downloads, each listener can sample online before choosing which pieces are the most appealing. The two I prefer, Recesses I and II, are enjoyable without sacrificing skill, intricacy, and detail. On that basis, Weisert has achieved something rare in New Music, reaching the listener directly and creating an intimate, satisfying connection.
— Huntley Dent, 9.09.2023