The Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States: Music from SEAMUS, volume 2

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The release of the back catalog from the Music from SEAMUS series continues with Volume 2, originally released in 1993. Electro-acoustic works by composers Scott Wyatt, Jeffrey Haas, Barry Schrader, Cort Lippe, Charles Norman Mason, George Todd, and James Mobberley are featured.

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SEAMUS (Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States) continues the release of their back catalog with Vol. 2 from 1993, featuring electronic and electroacoustic compositions from Scott A. Wyatt, Jeffrey Hass, Barry Schrader, Cort Lippe, Charles Norman Mason, George Todd, and James Mobberley.

The first piece by Scott A. Wyatt called Time Mark, for solo percussion and tape, features a wide range of percussion sounds, heard both in the live performance and on the pre-recorded electronic track. This piece, along with many others on the album, features the prominent use of spatialization and panning. The work begins with an electronic shaker, a motif throughout much of the piece, with swells of electronic sounds punctuated by percussion. In the middle, the percussionist takes on a quasi-soloist role on marimba, constantly rolling a slow-moving melody. Under the surface of this section, the electronics shape and color the marimba line to great effect. Following this, the piece breaks into a scherzo with the percussionist taking a background role to fascinating spatialized electronics.

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Jeffrey Hass’ Liasons is for computer-generated tape, with all of the sounds being sampled from oboe key clicks and multiphonics. Liasons is in the form of a traditional theme and variations, differing in that each variation contains the same material as the theme, and features a different way of electronically processing that material. Hass uses pitch shifting, spatialized reverb, elimination of the initial attack sound of notes, and time stretching. Time stretching is especially used to highlight multiphonics from the oboe, allowing the listener to hear intricacies we miss when we hear multiphonics at normal speed. Multiphonics take on a more pronounced role as the piece develops, both by becoming less processed, and through their role as ambient background material in contrast to the active foreground.

Barry Schrader’s Barroco is for the extremely unusual combination of harpsichord and electronics, and is the second section of a two movement work for this duo called Excavations. This piece is in what Schrader calls “reverse entropy” form, meaning that fragments of material from the opening come back in bits and pieces before settling into less chaotic repetitions. The opening features chords alternating between harpsichord and electronics, with the timbral difference mimicking the sound of different stops pulled on an organ. These chords break into a quasi-style brisé texture, with the two instruments locked in pointillistic hocketing with increasing melodic imitation. Hints of Baroque music are heard in common cadential figures, though no actual quotes are used. Slowly and patiently, the texture grows in activity and density, leaving chaos behind and ending in settled, unison repetition.

Returning to unaccompanied electronics, Cort Lippe’s Paraptra is for computer-generated tape, with all material coming from processed harp and classical guitar sounds. The piece is in four distinct sections, and features a wide dynamic range throughout, frequency shifting, spatialization, harmonization, and time-stretching. The opening section offers hints of unprocessed plucked strings beneath ghostly ambient sounds before building to a strong climax, with intense panning of the sound used to build tension. The texture changes entirely for the second section, featuring pointillistic sounds on top of quiet ambient sounds, and as the section progresses the two soundworlds begin to coalesce. This transformed material, sharp pointillism dulled by ambient sounds, becomes the basis for the third section. The fourth and final section features similar material to the first and gradually fades away.

Charles Norman Mason’s Amalgam I is for oboe and computer-generated tape. The tape captures elements of the double-reed sound, which the oboe expands through multiphonics and microtones. Amalgam I begins with the tape and oboe playing rhythmically incisive material, which morphs into the oboe taking on a soloistic role. Underneath, the tape stealthily sneaks in to both imitate and color the oboe’s sound. The piece then moves into an imitative scherzo section, and ends with a reprise of the beginning material.

George Todd’s Wordscapes are a set of etudes where one or two spoken words are sampled, analyzed, and re-synthesized. In this case, the words “Word”, “Water”, and “Green Idea”, spoken by a female voice, are used in three distinct etudes. In the synthesization process, the sound of these words is divided into “frames”, each of which contains its own harmonic spectrum, and through its proximity to neighboring frames, creates a timbral spectrum as well. The sounds used, while in an entirely different stylistic world, sometimes resemble electronic sounds used by Stockhausen. In the first two etudes, “Word” and “Water”, there is no hint of hearing the words themselves. In “Green Idea”, it is at times possible to make out the two words. These three etudes showcase extremely imaginative ways of processing tiny sections of human speech, and using the material to create fascinating compositions.

The last piece of the album is James Mobberley’s CAUTION TO THE WINDS, with the title being an allusion to the abandon and visceral thrill found in both the piano and electronic repertories. As such, the piece reflects this spirit in its free, rhapsodic form. The tape sounds are derived solely from the piano itself, with the tape track often taking the form of an impossibly virtuosic pianist in duo with a pianist who is merely human. The pianist opens the piece with a flourish, which the tape immediately expands upon. From here, the piece is off to the races in a thrilling end to this album showcasing a sampling of the academic electronic music being written in 1993.

-N. Beckmann

  • Produced by SEAMUS
  • Remastered by Scott A. Wyatt at the University of Illinois Experimental Music Studios
  • Graphic Design: David Colley

Glenn Schaft

Glenn Schaft performs with BATTU, a world percussion quartet that is is residence at Baldwin-Wallace College near Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Schaft also plays with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony which has received numerous awards for its performances and recordings of contemporary American music. Dr. Schaft received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Illinois, his Master's degree from Eastern Illinois University, and his Bachelor's degree from Baldwin-Wallace College.

Scott A. Wyatt

Scott A. Wyatt, composer and Professor of Composition, is also the Director of the University of Illinois Experimental Music Studios. His compositions include works for voice, acoustic instruments, electronically-synthesized sound, and computer-generated sound for various applications from theater and dance, to radio, television, film, and indoor/outdoor laser presentations. Among numerous awards which he has received, Scott Wyatt was the winner of the 1984 International Confederation of Electroacoustic Music Grand Prize, the 1984 Concorso Internazionale Luigi Russolo Competition, a 1986 University Scholar Award, a 1989 finalist in the International Electro-Acoustic Music Competition in Bourges, several artist fellowships, and a 1990 Arnold Beckman Research Award for the development of digital timescaling applications in music composition. His compositions are available on CENTAUR, Library of Congress, MARK, OFFICE, and VERIATZA Records. He currently serves as President of SEAMUS.

http://ems.music.ui-uc.edu/

Jeffrey Hass

Jeffrey Hass is currently Assistant Professor of Composition at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he serves as the Director of the Center for Electronic and Computer Music. His compositions have been premiered by the Louisville Orchestra and Concordia Chamber Orchestra, and have had performances at Lincoln Center and many national conferences.

Alissa Rhode

Alissa Rhode received her Bachelor of Music degree in composition from the University of Illinois in 1993. She is currently a freelance teacher, composer, and performer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Barry Schrader

Barry Schrader's compositions for tape, dance, film, video, multimedia, live/electronic combinations, and real-time computer performance have been presented throughout the world, including at such festivals as the Australian International Electronic Music Festival, Festival d'Automne a Paris, Tokyo Gakugei University Exhibition of Electronic Music, New Music Los Angeles, and at Darmstadt. He has received grants, awards, and commissions from such organizations as the Groupe Musique Experimentale de Bourges, Apple Computer, ASCAP, Meet the Composer, and the CalArts Contemporary Music Festival. Schrader is a founder and the first president of SEAMUS. He has written for several publications including Groves Dictionary, Grollier's Encyclopedia, Contemporary Music Review, and Journal SEAMUS, while his book Introduction to Electro-Acoustic Music is a standard text in the field. He is currently on the composition faculty of the School of Music of the California Institute of the Arts.

Cort Lippe

Cort Lippe studied composition with Larry Austin. Presently, he is employed at IRCAM, in Paris, where he develops real-time musical applications and gives courses on new technology in composition. His works have received various international composition prizes, and have been premiered at major festivals world-wide. His music is published by Borik Press, and is recorded on ADDA, Apollon, MIT Press, CBS-Sony, Neuma, Harmonia Mundi, and CDCM.

David Weber

David Weber has been Principal Oboist with the Alabama Symphony since 1971. He has spent his summers playing with the Santa Fe Opera, Chautauqua Symphony, substituting on oboe and English horn with the orchestras of Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Minnesota, and was Co-Principal Oboist for the Minnesota Orchestra Summerfest in 1984. Mr. Weber received his Bachelor of Music degree from the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with John de Lancie. He is the co-author of the REED MAKER'S MANUAL.

Charles Norman Mason

Composer Charles Norman Mason is chairman of the music department at Birmingham-Southern College and is Managing Editor of the international journal, LIVING MUSIC. His compositions have received several awards including an NEA Composers Grant, a Broadcast Music Inc. Award for Young Composers for his wind ensemble piece SHIFTINGS, First Prize in the Panoply of the Arts Competition for THREE HOPKINS SONGS, First Prixe in the City Stages Classical Music competition for THE CAGED SKYLARK and his tape piece SOME FIND ME was a finalist in the International Bourges Electroacoustic Composition Competition and was featured in an article by Barney Childs in THE CONTEMPORARY MUSIC REVIEW.

George Todd

George Todd is Professor of Music and Director of the Electroacoustic Studio at Middlebury College in Vermont. His works have been released on CRI and Opus One records.

Richard Cass

Richard Cass, pianist, has won critical acclaim for his artistry on tours throughout the United States and Europe. He has been a Fulbright Scholar at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, and has merited the Music Teachers National Association's Award for Distinguished Service to American Music. He is currently a professor of piano at the UMKC Conservatory of Music in Kansas City.

James Mobberley

James Mobberley is currently Professor of Music and Director of the Music Production And Computer Technology (M-PACTJ Center at the Conservatory of Music of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Since 1991 he has also served as Composer-in-Residence with the Kansas City Symphony. He is a composer of orchestral and chamber music as well as music that combines live performance with electronic elements. He is a Rome Prize Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and has received four grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, including a current Composer's Fellowship. Commissions have come from the Barlow Endowment, the St. Louis Symphony, the Kansas City Symphony, and many other organizations.


Reviews

Fanfare

SEAMUS is the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States. It was founded in 1984 and is a non-profit organization of composers, performers, and teachers, working in many styles of music, but all having one thing in common: the use of electronic technology. In addition to its conferences, it publishes a journal, and it encourages its members to create new works. Previous winners of the “SEAMUS Award,” an annual recognition of contributors to the field of electro-acoustic music, include Wendy Carlos, Laurie Anderson, and Morton Subotnick.

I have reviewed Volumes 24 through 27 of SEAMUS in Fanfare over the past couple of years. It was quite a happy surprise to receive Volume 2, which is comprised entirely of works composed decades earlier, between 1988 and 1991. Perhaps the older volumes are being reissued now? What an excellent opportunity that would create for tracing the evolution of electro-acoustic music during a period of practically supersonic technological development!

That said, to my ears, there is nothing outdated about the actual music on this disc, although it would not surprise me if today’s composers and performers nodded knowingly as they heard it. The technology used in these works seems relatively simple compared to what is used today, but the key word is “relatively.” Scott A. Wyatt’s Time Mark is a work for solo percussion accompanied by pre-recorded tape. Similarly, James Mobberley’s CAUTION TO THE WINDS is a work for piano and pre-recorded tape. In Jeffrey Hass’s Liaisons, Cort Lippe’s Paraptra, and George Todd’s Wordscape, the tapes that are used as a solo instrument (if you will) are computer-generated, but again they are, I assume, pre-recorded. Charles Norman Mason’s Amalgam I also uses computer-generated tape, but in a duet with a live oboe. The only work here that does not use tape, apparently, is Barry Schrader’s Barocco, which is the second movement of a larger work. It is scored “for harpsichord and electronics,” although we are not told what the electronics are. Thus, although the works themselves are not dated, the technologies that have been used to produce or perform them are very limited, apparently, compared to what is available today. For example, more recent SEAMUS discs demonstrate how much currently is being done with the real-time interplay between live performers and live electronics. You won’t hear much (or any) of that here, but that does not diminish the music’s quality.

Most of these works are between five and nine minutes in length, with the exception of Paraptra, which tips the scales at 14:22. Given its fascinating, varied, and rather dark sound world, though, it does not outstay its welcome. Another highlight of the disc is an excerpt from Wordscapes. Although this work was created entirely from deconstructed, altered, and reassembled samples of a female voice speaking the words “word,” “water,” and “green idea,” it only intermittently reveals its origins. My favorite of all, however, is CAUTION TO THE WINDS, which is an exciting, aurally stimulating duet between a live piano and an idealized, virtual super-piano on tape. Its coldness burns.

Apart from Barocco, which is a witty parody of Baroque harpsichord music, there is not a lot of warmth emanating from the works on SEAMUS 2. This might not be everyone’s idea of music, but these really are serious works, and not simply gratuitous ploys to tickle the listener’s ear with effects, or to show off the latest bells and whistles. Adventurous listeners who want to explore new timbral territories are encouraged to give it, and other SEAMUS discs, a try.

-Raymond Tuttle, 7.25.19, Fanfare

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