The Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States: Music from SEAMUS, vol. 31

About

SEAMUS (Society for Electro-Acoustic Music of the United States) continues its series of releasing its back catalogue along with new recordings. Volume 31 features compositions reflecting the vanguard of electronic music by Jon Fielder, Maggi Payne, Douglas McCausland, Jon Christopher Nelson, Nina C. Young, Brian Riordan, Eli Fieldsteel, Kerrith Livengood, Becky Brown, and David Q. Nguyen.

Audio

Jon Fielder’s astonishing Think is a portrayal of a descent into schizophrenia, based on the experience of a close friend. Each episode is more fragmented and confused than the last, from the overcharged anxiety of delusion to a shattered inner dystopia. After the midpoint of the piece, the nonsensical speech gives way to faraway, wordless singing. Whether this transformation is an inner relief or a pharmacological snuffing-out, is left for us to determine.

Using fairly austere means (a Moog IIIP synthesizer and a sample of a cricket), Maggi Payne creates a rich sonic tableau in Heat Shield, summoning images such as a nightscape of electronic insects, the deep thrum of a robotic machine, and underwater storms. The four-section work begins with near-white noise that slowly evolves to a brightly metallic ringing, only to be supplanted by a low-slung mechanic thrum. Many seeming opposites — high and low, organic and artificial, atmospheric and concrete — interact in complex ways.

Douglas McCausland’s Convergence is a tour-de-force for “augmented” double bass and electronics performer. The extended technique vocabulary for the double bass is already impressive; electronic augmentation and a performer dedicated solely to the electronics opens up a fantastically expressive universe. Scratch tones, harmonics, grinding the bow into the strings are all effective on their own, but the transformations and layerings made possible with this setup, along with the exceptional virtuosity of bassist Aleksander Gabryś, create a tremendously powerful, dark, and sometimes terrifying experience.

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Jon Christopher Nelson’s and sometimes wind from the south is based on an audio recording of a reading by the poet Robert Gregory. The poem is set in the aftermath of a loved one’s death, where thoughts and questions about what had happened and why intermingle with strange metaphors and surreal dreams. The incomprehension of grief is mirrored by the ebb and flow of the text, disappearing into and reemerging from a densely layered soundscape. It is a piece to listen to multiple times, for new meanings to emerge.

Originally part of a video collaboration with animator Yuliya Lanina, Nina C. Young’s brief yet powerful Always and Forever first presents sweet, choral resonances reminiscent of Cocteau Twins, but quickly takes them down a decidedly different musical path. With skillful manipulation of timbre, and adept use of acoustic samples, Young vividly explores the ironies, misgivings and ambiguities of interpersonal relations.

Brian Riordan’s Succubus transports the all-in, take-no-prisoners energy of soprano Anna Elder to a charged and unpredictable sonic universe. Starting with unprocessed extended techniques like vocal fry, nonsense syllables, choking and panting sounds, and various sung timbres, the processing creates an atmosphere of noisy gestures and opaque backgrounds, and transforms the voice into the titular succubus. Especially effective is the chorus. adding a demonic child to sing along with Elder, and looping, creating a proliferating choir of soaring sopranos when the possession is complete.

Eli Fieldsteel and Kerrith Livengood’s Sonic Crumbs began as a creative game between two friends, but what resulted is a work of cinematic breadth — a mysterious piece that we watch from a distance as it gradually evolves. A massive presence emerges from a passage of gentle, expectant rising forms; it is then commented upon in small varied gestures, some of which imply human voices. An understated counterpoint seems to connect them, but it slowly drifts away.

Becky Brown’s dark parts is both audacious and enigmatic. The shape of the piece is drawn by a layer of glitchy, overdriven noise, all points and sharp edges. Brown foregrounds this highly focused sonic vocabulary with an insistent zeal. Counterpointing this is a slow line of bell-like resonances that slips and moves against the noise, gradually balancing it. The enigma of the piece is an idée fixe of the word “inside,” spoken repeatedly by women’s voices throughout the work.

David Q. Nguyen’s Whale Song Stranding is a mesmerizing world that brings to mind fast-moving water — crystalline streams, ocean waves. The sense of motion comes from its texture built from short repeated sounds, expertly panned across the sound field. Expressive resonances and sudden silences give the piece emotional depth, like the organic responses of a living thing.

– Kyle Bartlett

Produced by SEAMUS

Mastered by Scott L. Miller

Graphic design by Alison Wilder

Jon Fielder

Jon Fielder is a composer, sound designer, and audio engineer who bounces from place to place - Midwest to Texas to Northern California back to Midwest. His primary musical output consists of electro-acoustic, acousmatic, and concert works for ensembles of all sizes, and has been known to dabble in IDM/glitch and Drum & Bass, and has been described as "angular, dissonant...kerplunkity," by friend and colleague Joshua Shank. Jon occasionally performs live electronic music with found objects, mangled and processed in various ways to create engaging (hopefully entertaining) sound art. From 2015-2017 he was in a laptop trio called Cmd+Q ("command q") with Chris Ozley and Kramer Elwell, in which the three played mostly freely improvised uninterrupted sets that ranged from ambient, avant-garde, trance, and the occasional King Crimson cover.

Maggi Payne

Maggi Payne is a composer of primarily electronic and electroacoustic music, a flutist, video artist, recording engineer/editor, archivist, and historical remastering engineer. Her works have been presented in the Americas, Europe, Japan, and Australasia. She received several Composer's Grants and an Interdisciplinary Arts Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, four honorary mentions from Bourges, and one from Prix Ars Electronica. Works appear on Aguirre, Air Texture, The Lab, Lovely Music, Innova, Starkland, Music and Arts, New World Records (CRI), Root Strata, Ubuibi, Asphodel, and/OAR, Centaur, MMC, Digital Narcis, Capstone, Mills, and Frog Peak labels. She was Co-Director of the Center for Contemporary Music, Mills College (1992-2018) where she taught recording engineering, composition, and electronic music. She began teaching at Mills in 1972.

Aleksander Gabryś

Aleksander Gabryś is a double bassist, performer, and composer, who works as a soloist for orchestras and chamber music ensembles like Klangforum Wien, Ensemble Modern, and many more. He has been a core member of the Ensemble Phoenix Basel since 2001. Gabryś’ artistic oeuvre includes solo works for double bass, chamber music, as well as computer music of the neo-expressionistic avant-garde with a tendency for paratheatrical forms.

Jon Christopher Nelson

Jon Christopher Nelson (b. 1960) is currently a Professor of Composition at the University of North Texas where he is an associate of CEMI (Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia). Nelson’s electroacoustic music compositions have been performed widely throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Latin America. He has been honored with numerous awards including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fulbright Commission. He is the recipient of Luigi Russolo (1995), Bourges Prizes (1996, 1997, 1999, 2002 and the Euphonies d'Or prize in 2004) and the International Computer Music Association's Americas Regional Award (2012) and Music Award (2020). In addition to his electro-acoustic works, Nelson has composed a variety of acoustic compositions that have been performed by ensembles such as the New World Symphony, the Memphis Symphony, the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra, ALEA III, and others.

Anna Elder

Soprano Anna Elder’s voice has been described as being, “ethereal” or “a voice that has blues, reds and purples in it” by The New York Times. She performs new music with her ensemble Kamratōn. Anna premiered composer Eric Moe’s opera “We Crossed The River” for City of Asylum’s Literature Festival. She has performed on Oh My Ears, Re:Sound, Experimental Sound Studio, and SEAMUS21. She was a featured artist at Tanglewood, where she sang Andrew Hamilton’s “Music for People Who Like Art” for their Festival of Contemporary music in 2019.

Eli Fieldsteel

Dr. Eli Fieldsteel, Assistant Professor of Composition-Theory and Director of the University of Illinois Experi- mental Music Studios, is a composer specializing in music technology with a diverse history of cross-disciplinary collaboration. Fieldsteel's music and research engages with the intersection between music technology and contemporary instrumental practice, focusing on topics such as human-computer improvisation, interactivity, and generative music. Utilizing new technologies and real-time environments, his works are highly gestural, expressive, and richly detailed. As an active collaborator, he has worked closely with dancers, choreographers, lighting designers, architects, and video artists, resulting in a variety of unique and site-specific installations and performances. Fieldsteel was born in Middletown, CT and holds degrees from Brown University (BA, 2008), The University of North Texas (MM, 2010), and The University of Texas at Austin (DMA, 2015).

Kerrith Livengood

Kerrith Livengood’s works feature randomness, complex grooves, lyricism, noise, and humor. She is a flutist, drummer, and improviser, who regularly collaborates with other musicians and noisemakers. She has composed works for the JACK Quartet, Third Angle Ensemble, Duo Cortona, Altered Sound Duo, Albatross Duo, soprano Amy Petrongelli, saxophonist Nathan Mandel, and the h2 Quartet. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, and currently teaches music theory at the University of Illinois.

Becky Brown

Becky Brown is a 2015 Music and Computer Science graduate of the University of Mary Washington, studying electroacoustic composition with Mark Snyder, and harp performance with Grace Bauson. She has been a performer of Dr. Snyder's music at festivals including SCI National and Regional Conferences, Third Practice, and Electronic Music Midwest, as well as in his guest artist appearances at numerous universities. Her own works have been performed at SEAMUS 2016, Root Signals, EABD, and the BSU New Music Festival. In addition, Brown has engineered or assisted on recordings in a wide range of genres, and composed music for theatre and dance. She is the tech director of the Electroacoustic Barn Dance at UMW.

David Q. Nguyen

David Quang-Minh Nguyen is a composer of concert music. Along with the concert music that he composes, he also enjoys doing sound design for film. His current interests lie in composing acousmatic works dealing with multi-channel loudspeaker expansion, sound spatialization, and immersive audio. David Q. Nguyen holds a BM from Old Dominion University where he studied with Andrey R. Kasparov and Mark Chambers. He has received his Masters and is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where his primary teachers are Sever Tipei and Scott A. Wyatt.

Douglas McCausland

Douglas McCausland is a composer/performer interested in new aesthetic and technological domains, who explores the extremes of sound and the digital medium. Through his work, he investigates the intersections of real-time electronic music performance, bespoke interfaces, spatial audio, interactive systems, machine-learning, and experimental sound design. With a background as both a conservatory musician and music technologist, Douglas is currently a doctoral fellow at Stanford University, working towards his DMA in Composition under the supervision of Chris Chafe and Patricia Alessandrini.

Nina C. Young

Composer and sonic artist Nina C. Young creates works, ranging from concert pieces to interactive installations, that explore aural architectures, resonance, and ephemera. She dialogues with natural acoustic environments, instrumental performance techniques, and digital signal processing. Nina is a professor at USC Thornton; her work is published by Peermusic Classical.

Brian Riordan

Brian Riordan is a Pittsburgh-based composer, performer, improviser, producer, and sound artist from Chicago, IL. His music combines acoustic and electronic, strictly composed and improvised, lo-fi and hi-fi, and pop and avant-garde. As an avid collaborator, he has performed in numerous ensembles rang- ing from rock, jazz, classical, and experimental throughout North American, Europe, and Asia. Performers of his music include The Callithumpian Consort, SPLICE Ensemble, Alia Musica, andPlay, Kamratōn, and Wolftrap. His music has been featured at STEIM, SEAMUS, SICPP, New Music On The Point, and SPLICE. As a member of the Pittsburgh ensemble “How Things Are Made,” he produced and performed on over 84 recordings and has commissioned 52 pieces.


Reviews

5

Vital Weekly

New Focus releases the annual meeting proceedings - so to say - of the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (of America). SEAMUS is a non-profit organisation fostering electroacoustic music, having composers, performing artists and teachers as their members. I am not 100% sure how New Focus Recordings comes in here. Still, Dan Lippel, one of the NFR founders, regularly supplies SEAMUS releases through the NFR promotion gateway and writes liner notes for releases.

The annual releases documented the yearly conferences and their performances in past years. This year (possibly due to Covid), the release Vol. 31 (commemorating the year 2022) is more of a compilation of recent USAmerican composers. Having had a growing number of 'new music'/'contemporary classical'/'free music' releases advertised to VITAL in the past year or longer, this release is an absolute classic in demonstrating how 'industrial' music originated from electroacoustics (or at least the same source thinking), before diverging off into noise, ambient, drone etc. Therefore, this release sometimes revokes fond memories of the 1980ies cassette culture, although this will probably not be the intention of the label or the composers.

Here, we find some rare names, such as Jon Fielder, a vagrant between acousmatic, glitch, laptop music and D&B, in the laptop trio CMD+q occasionally performing King Crimson covers. His piece is a clever cut-up vocal delivery 'Think' above a mainly percussive backdrop, conjuring connotations of brain/mental health/god. Maggi Payne's 'Heat Shield' incurs science fiction links by moving from white and pink noise to a computer alarm sound. She has several releases out already and recorded Reich and Schnittke's work, though this piece has little to nothing to do with 'classical' music. Finally, Douglas McCausland is a complete unknown and PhD student. His piece 'Convergence' nevertheless won the 2021 first SEAMUS prize -
in contrast to the first two, it is a composed piece including a double bass and electronics. Not that you could tell, as the bass is used to create 'scratching' sounds that sometimes even remind of a trombone or amplified objects. As with Fielder, though, a strong effect is generated by contrasting the foreground action with a continuous 'drone' or synth-like background, adding electronic treatment of the bass sound. Track 6, 'Succubus' by Brian Riordan (again an unknown), takes a similar approach, though using a soprano voice as the sound source in a slightly unnerving piece that contrasts the mostly calm atmosphere of the other tracks.

Jon Christopher Nelson is a music lecturer and has a good list of recordings of his compositions. His track 4, 'sometimes', reverts to language again in a cut-up delivery of Robert Gregory reading his new wave SciFi influenced poem over a field recording-ish/electronic background. Nina C Young, an unknown music professor, follows with a shorter, synth-electronic music piece. Eli Fieldsteel and Kerrith Livengood follow with a quiet piece of sine waves and electronics, 'Sonic Crumbs'. Next, Becky Brown's 'dark parts' invokes a bit of 'Dark Star' (if anyone remembers John Carpenter's first film? a classic SciFi story). And finally, David Q Nguyen creates a chattery pattern of (water?) sounds over an electronic backdrop in 'whale Song'.

The recurring theme with most of these artists: they are academics and have little or no recordings available, at least as far as Discogs is concerned. This is really a pity because this CD contains many hidden gems. Maybe this is a USAmerican development. I have frequently come across great recordings broadcast late at night, for instance, on Radio Klara, with no evidence that there had been any publications apart from obscure file downloads. Therefore, this SEAMUS release is certainly something to pick if you want to get up to speed with current electroacoustics from North
America.

— Robert Steinberger, 5.31.2022

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