Composer Rand Steiger releases the first volume chronicling his collaboration with the International Contemporary Ensemble, Coalescence Cycle. Volume 1 highlights works Steiger wrote for soloists in ICE (Claire Chase, Josh Rubin, Rebekah Heller, Kivie Cahn-Lipman, and Jacob Greenberg) that feature real time electronics processing, virtuosic writing tailored to the dedicatees of the works, and an approach to harmony that explores the intersection of tempered and just intonation material.
|Joshua Rubin, clarinet, Rand Steiger, electronics||8:22|
|Claire Chase, flute and piccolo, Rand Steiger, electronics||9:36|
|Kivie Cahn-Lipman, cello, Rand Steiger, electronics||17:26|
|04||Light on Water|
Light on Water
|Claire Chase, flute, Jacob Greenberg, piano, Rand Steiger, electronics||18:49|
|Rebekah Heller, bassoon, Rand Steiger, electronics||16:16|
Composer Rand Steiger’s “Coalescence Cycle” for musicians in the International Contemporary Ensemble reflects many of his aesthetic interests and priorities. Primary among these is an investigation of hybrid timbres, an exploration of the possibilities of live signal processing on virtuosic instrumental material, and a pitch vocabulary that includes tempered and just intoned intervals. Four of the works on this first volume are for single instrument and live processing, and the fifth is for flute, piano, and electronics, with all of the electronics performed by Steiger himself.
Steiger has worked closely with computer music pioneer Miller Puckette for many years, and the works on this recording are processed through a platform they developed within Puckette’s Pure Data software environment. Using this platform allows Steiger to experiment with spatialization, resonant filters, various delays and echoes, and harmonizations that tune processed material according to just intonation.Read More
Cyclone for clarinet and live electronics, written for and performed by ICE founding clarinetist and former co-artistic director Joshua Rubin, was written in 2013 and inspired by the anomalous event of two tornadoes descending on Brooklyn, and also references the famous roller coaster in Coney Island. Steiger extends the cyclone metaphor into the musical structure of the piece, as the electronics sweep up the clarinet material into swirling echoes and cyclical loops.
Beacon was written for ICE founder, former executive director, and flutist Claire Chase, and is inspired by her leadership in the contemporary music field that has lit the way for so many other musicians. Steiger also extends the notion of “beacon” to the musical material, taking material from Varese’s iconic Density 21.5 which has been the basis of Chase’s multi-decade commissioning project, and “projecting” it out into a sonic environment shaped by live processing. Steiger then establishes a dialogue between the processed material, or the received message, and the live instrumentalist, weaving a haunting feedback loop as the electronics interact with the alternatively rhythmic and rhapsodic music coming from Chase’s flute.
Mourning Fog, performed here by ICE founding cellist Kivie Cahn-Lipman, is a work of melancholy reflection, written after Steiger suffered a personal loss. The electronics fulfill the function of enveloping the live cellist in a fog, with pitches reverberating in the acoustic space, and occasionally providing momentary contrapuntal support for the long expressive lines. Register becomes a key feature of this layering, as fundamental pitches that remain in the electronics are the basis for harmonic series expansion into the higher reaches of the instrument. As the work evolves, the density of the accompanimental electronics thickens, and Steiger bends and twists the floating harmonies. Swifter, emphatic cello passages mark the climactic minutes of the piece, before the texture returns to the singing character of the opening for an elegiac coda.
Light on Water, for piano, flute, and electronics, performed here by Chase and ICE founding pianist Jacob Greenberg, is a meditation on how light reflects off water and how that might be expressed in musical terms. Colorful pastels of harmony are articulated in trills in the piano and ascending figures in the flute. The electronics create a halo of delays that intensify the sense of reflection. After an accumulating rhythmic section, the flute arrives at a series of climactic high notes, a structural pillar articulating the gradual unfolding of the work. In the coda, we hear ripples of sound gently grazing the watery sonic surface.
About his work for bassoon and live electronics processing written for ICE bassoonist and current co-artistic director Rebekah Heller, Rand Steiger writes, “Concatenation revisits an approach I have explored in previous solo pieces that I call “nested etudes,” in which a set of contrasting materials, any one of which could have been the subject of an etude, are laid out and interwoven into a continuous conversation. In this piece, there are seven different kinds of material, each with a unique approach to signal processing.”
– D. Lippel
Final project mastered at Oktaven Audio, January 2019; Ryan Streber, mastering engineer
All music published by Rand Steiger Music (ASCAP)
Rand Steiger’s music has been commissioned and performed by many distinguished soloists and ensembles and has been presented in concert halls and at festivals internationally. Throughout his career, Steiger has been involved in computer music research, having held three residencies at Ircam, and enjoying a long fruitful collaboration with leading computer music researcher Miller Puckette. He was Composer-in-Residence at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology from 2010 to 2013.
Many of Steiger’s works combine orchestral instruments with real-time digital audio signal processing. They also propose a hybrid approach to just and equal-tempered tuning, exploring the delicate perceptual cusp between a harmony and a timbre that occurs when tones are precisely tuned. Some examples of works deploying these techniques include: Ecosphere, developed during residencies at Ircam and premiered by the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris; Traversing, written for cellist Mathew Barley and premiered by the Southbank Sinfonia in London; Cryosphere, premiered by the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, A Menacing Plume, premiered by the Talea Ensemble in New York, and the Coalescence Cycle, premiered at Miller Theater in New York by the International Contemporary Ensemble. More recently he created a series of works for the Arditti, JACK and Flux Quartets. In 2016 he was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create Nimbus, an installation in collaboration with Yuval Sharon that embedded 32 loudspeakers in clouds hanging in the atrium of the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall that played a series of 21 compositions intermittently throughout the day for the entire 2016/17 season.
Steiger was also active as a conductor specializing in contemporary works until deciding in 2010 to concentrate entirely on composition. He led a series of critically acclaimed concerts with the Ensemble Sospeso in New York City in the early 2000's, and with the California EAR Unit at the Los Angeles County Museum in the 1980's and 90's. Among other groups he conducted were the Aspen Chamber Ensemble, La Jolla Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, New York New Music Ensemble, and the Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain (Switzerland). Among his recordings as conductor are operas by Anne LeBaron, Hilda Paredes and Anthony Davis, and chamber works by Elliott Carter, George Lewis, Mark Osborn, Roger Reynolds, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Morton Subotnick, Iannis Xenakis and Wadada Leo Smith. He has also conducted many world, New York and California premier performances, including works of Muhal Richard Abrams, Louis Andriessen, Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, Henry Brant, Elliott Carter, Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Gordon, Jonathan Harvey, Aaron Kernis, Scott Lindroth, James Newton, Luigi Nono, Augusta Read-Thomas, Roger Reynolds, Terry Riley, Poul Ruders, Frederic Rzewski, Kaija Saariaho, Giacinto Scelsi, Elliott Sharp, Julia Wolfe, Toru Takemitsu, Jon Tavener, and Erki-Sven Tuur.
His compositions and performances are recorded on the Centaur, CRI, Crystal, Einstein, Koch, Mode, New Albion, New Dynamic, New World, Nonesuch, Tundra, and Tzadik labels. Recent works for instruments and electronics are available on Ecosphere a portrait CD/DVD on EMF, and A Menacing Plume, a portrait CD on New World Records.
Steiger is a Distinguished Professor, and holder of the Conrad Prebys Presidential Chair in the Music Department at U.C. San Diego and was a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow. In 2009 he was a Visiting Professor at Harvard University.
Joshua Rubin is a founding clarinetist and the co-Artistic Director of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), where he oversees the creative direction of more than sixty concerts per season in the United States and abroad. As a clarinetist, the New York Times has praised him as, "incapable of playing an inexpressive note."
Joshua has worked closely with many of the prominent composers of our time, including George Crumb, David Lang, John Adams, George Lewis, Philippe Hurel, Kaija Saariaho, John Zorn, Magnus Lindberg, Steve Lehman, Nathan Davis, Tyshawn Sorey, John Zorn, and Mario Davidovsky. His interest in electronic music throughout his career has led him work on making these technologies easier to use for both composers and performers. Joshua can be heard on recordings from the Nonesuch, Kairos, New Focus, Mode, Cedille, Naxos, Bridge, New Amsterdam, and Tzadiklabels. His album "There Never is No Light," available on ICE's Tundra label, highlights music that uses technology to capture the human engagement of the performer and the listener.
In the past season he has been featured as a soloist with the Seattle Symphony (under Ludovic Morlot) and at the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, in engagements with the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and has given solo performances of new music in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, São Paulo, Rome and Berlin.
He received degrees in Biology and Clarinet from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and his Master's degree from the Mannes College of Music. His clarinet studies were mentored by Lawrence McDonald, Mark Nuccio and Yehuda Gilad.http://iceorg.org/about/staffbios/rubin
Flutist Claire Chase, a 2012 MacArthur Fellow, is a soloist, collaborative artist, and activist for new music. Over the past decade she has given the world premieres of over 100 new works for flute, many of them tailor-made for her. In 2014 she began Density 2036, a project to commission, premiere and record an entirely new program of pieces for flute every year until 2036, the 100th anniversary of the eponymous and seminal piece by Varese. Also in the 2014-15 season, Chase is music directing and playing as soloist in a series of performances of Salvatore Sciarrino's Il cerchio tagliato dei suoni for 4 flute soloists and 100 flute “migranti”.
Chase has performed throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia, including debuts last season in Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, Paris, London, São Paolo and Guangzhou. She has released three solo albums, Aliento (2010), Terrestre (2012) and Density (2013). In 2014, she was selected as an inaugural Fellow of Project&, with which she will several new works exploring the relationship between language, music and social interaction over the next several years.
Chase was First Prize Winner in the 2008 Concert Artists Guild International Competition. She co-founded the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in 2001 and serves as the organization’s Artistic Director and CEO in addition to playing over fifty concerts a year as an ensemble member. ICE has premiered more than 600 works since its inception and pioneered a new artist-driven organizational model that earned the company a Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center in 2010. Chase was also honored with Crain’s Business “40 under 40” Award in 2013.
In 2013, Chase founded The Pnea Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of the flute and its repertoire in the 21st century through commissions, community engagement, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary collaborations and advocacy. She lives in Brooklyn.http://www.clairechase.net
Kivie Cahn-Lipman holds degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and The Juilliard School, and he is a Doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He is the founding cellist of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and the director of the new period-instrument ensemble ACRONYM. From 2005-2012 he was a Lecturer in Music in a full-time position shared between Mount Holyoke College and Smith College.
Kivie has recorded on the New Focus, Naxos, Bridge, New Amsterdam, Tzadik, Kairos, Mode, ECM, and Nonesuch labels. The present release is his first solo recording. As a chamber musician, Kivie has performed in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall and Zankel Hall, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall and Rose Theatre, and other major venues on three continents, as well as live on WNYC 93.9 in New York and WFMT 98.7 in Chicago. He has been a faculty member at the Cortona Sessions for New Music in Cortona, Italy, since 2012. Kivie plays a 2003 William Whedbee cello, and additionally performs on electric cello, Baroque and piccolo cellos, bass and tenor viols, viola d’amore, and lirone.http://iceorg.org/about/artist/cahn-lipman
Pianist Jacob Greenberg’s work as a soloist and chamber musician has received worldwide acclaim. As a longtime member of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), he has performed throughout the Americas and Europe. His solo concert series, Music at Close Range, shows his equal commitment to classics of the repertoire.
A leading pianist of modern song, he has toured extensively with soprano Tony Arnold; their 2013 recording of Olivier Messiaen’s Harawi has been singled out by critics. Other ensemble performances include MusicNOW, with members of the Chicago Symphony, and Contempo at the University of Chicago. As an orchestral player, he has also appeared with the New York Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, and Australian Chamber Orchestra.
In addition to his solo albums for New Focus Recordings, which feature works by over a dozen composers, Mr. Greenberg has recorded for the Nonesuch, Sony, Bridge, Naxos, Mode, Kairos, Centaur, Tzadik, and New Amsterdam labels. Live performances have been heard on WQXR New York, BBC Radio 3, WFMT Chicago and Radio Netherlands. Mr. Greenberg is also a record producer, and has completed discs for major domestic and international labels. He is the director of ICE’s in-house Tundra imprint. As a composer, he makes recorded pieces with spoken and sung texts.
Recent highlights include a guest performance of works of György Kurtág at the International Summer Courses in Darmstadt, Germany, under the composer’s guidance; a recital tour with flutist Claire Chase; Boulez’s Sur Incises with the Seattle Symphony; and solo and concerto appearances with ICE at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival.
Mr. Greenberg is on the faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center, and has taught at Hunter College, City University of New York, The Juilliard School, and the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is a graduate of Oberlin College, where he earned degrees in music and religion, and he completed his master’s and doctoral degrees at Northwestern University, where he studied with Ursula Oppens. Please visit jacobgreenberg.net.http://www.jacobgreenberg.net
Praised for her “flair” and “deftly illuminated” performances by The New York Times, bassoonist Rebekah Heller is a uniquely dynamic chamber, orchestral and solo musician. Equally comfortable playing established classical works and the newest of new music, Rebekah is a fiercely passionate advocate for the bassoon. Called an "impressive solo bassoonist" by The New Yorker, she is tirelessly committed to collaborating with composers to expand the modern repertoire for the instrument.
As a member of the renowned International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Rebekah has played concerts all over the world. She has been a featured soloist with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and has played solo works in cities both near and far - including São Paolo, Rio, Paris, Berlin, Köln, Chicago, New York, Boston, Minneapolis, and many more.
Before moving to New York, Rebekah completed a one-year appointment as Principal Bassoonist of the Jacksonville Symphony and has served as Principal Bassoonist with the Atlanta Opera Orchestra, and the Utah Festival Opera.
From 2005-2008, Rebekah was a member of the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida. During her time there, she worked with some of today's most innovative and electrifying musical minds, including Michael Tilson Thomas, Robert Spano, Marin Alsop, Oliver Knussen, Yo-Yo Ma and Christian Tetzlaff.
One can never be sure from one month to the next exactly what music one will hear. So an open-work world-mind is a healthy one to maintain no doubt. Here is one I did not expect to get yet now that I've heard it a number of times I am glad of it. That's Coalescence Cycle, Volume 1: Music for Soloists and Electronics (Tundra/New Focus Recordings TUN 013) by composer Rand Steiger with soloists of the International Contemporary Ensemble.
This is on the surface of things a pretty straightforward proposition. Selected soloists perform expressive fare that lands on this side of Jazz-based Improv in its vibrant performativity, yet is firmly in the New Music camp.
The soloists conjoin with electronics that build out of the instrumentalist's part closely and/or co-exist in direct parallel to it. The idea of harmony melding into timbral complexity is what lies behind these works conceptually. Instrumental part and electronics conjoin closely via expressly sequenced live signal processing by means of special software applications by Miller Puckette. In live versions the sound of the instrumentalist(s) is processed and disseminated out of six loudspeakers distributed throughout the auditorium. It is reduced to stereo in the present recording. The note choices center around natural intervals that occur in the harmonic series. Understandably this lends itself to the timbral-chord ambiguity that Rand Steiger seeks to explore.
In this way single-note, chord and timbral elements oscillate in mutual coexistence, come forward in performance and permute in a kind of natural process situation. Five interrelated works seek our listening involvement, each with a different instrument or instruments as soloist(s) and each rolling forward in its own way. The works were composed between 2012 and 2015. They are in sequence as follows: "Cyclone" for clarinet and electronics, "Beacon" for flute, piccolo and electronics, "Mourning Fog" for cello and electronics, "Light On Water" for flute, piano and electronics, and "Concatenation" for bassoon and electronics.
There are interesting, captivating musical events happening continuously throughout, but I must say I have been especially taken by the opening "Cyclone" for clarinet, "Light On Water" for flute-piano and the closing bassoon-timbral excitement of "Concatenation." That is not to cast aspersion on the others, just to note that the opening and closing gambits are the most dramatic and appealing each in their own way.
All the soloists come through with dynamic and exciting performances that one hears with pleasure. So kudos to Joshua Rubin on clarinet, Claire Chase on the flute and piccolo, Kivie Cahn-Lipman on cello, Jacob Greenberg on piano and Rebekah Heller on bassoon.
I find the album a stimulating listen. It illustrates the current live organicism that much of the Electro-Acoustics we hear today espouse. It all works together for an emphasis on performance yet gives us plenty to focus upon in the deliberate systems-compositional forms. Recommended for those open to intriguing new examples of live electronics as it evolves into the Modern future.
-Grego Applegate Edwards, 6.25.19, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
This album doesn’t begin as much as it takes off like a spaceship headed to the planet Arga-fucking-buthon. Alien landscapes, treacherous corners, and shifting dissonances come served in large heaping spoonfuls on this motherfucker. Is this contemporary classical music? You better fucking believe it is. But if you’ve ventured through the lands of Tobin, Aphex, George Crumb, or Zorn, you’ll be laid back in a lawn chair soaking in the rays of this soundscape like some bronzed sailing bodybuilding from the ’80s. This music sits in that super-sweet spot between classical avant-garde and out-there electronica. Four out of five of these tracks are made up of a single classical player throwing down heavy licks while Steiger fucks it up all computer styles. At one moment, you’ll be chilling in the strange ambiance put out of a single instrument, thinking you’ve got a hold of the motherfucker, when the entire key melts down like everything’s now in slow motion. Depending on who you are, you’ll either be curious and confused as this occurs, or you’ll be biting your bottom lip in pure dissonant ecstasy as the music takes you through the immeasurable distance between your ears.
The first track “Cyclone” is composed of a clarinet and live electronics. That’s it. But that doesn’t mean this shit’s sparse. It starts off with a neat run until delay and reverb effects take it through a loop like a vindictive whirly-whirl. From then on, you’re in another universe so, please, mind your hats goan in. No need to worry about whether these players are up to snuff. You’re in safe fucking hands. Joshua Rubin, the clarinetist on this track, was also the co-Artistic Director of the International Contemporary Ensemble (or ICE [no, it’s got nothing to do with immigration]) from 2014 to 2018. So he knows what the fuck is up. The piece was inspired by two tornadoes that hit up Brooklyn and is also named after a Coney Island roller coaster. The cyclical theme is well embedded into the piece. It swirls and twists like a drunken ballet dancer on a pair of motorized rollerskates.
The second track, “Beacon”, takes on the talents of ICE founder and flutist Claire Chase. What does a beacon do? Well, it fucking beacons. Again, the live instrumentals are thrown through effects that further the beckoning theme. “Mourning Fog” is performed by another ICE founder, Kivie Cahn-Lipman, and was written after Steiger went through an personal loss. The warm and sparse cello slowly shifts into multiple airy layers until the piece turns into a fucked up nightmare. Just like with real loss, it tends to be the warm beautiful bits that fuck you in the ass. The next track, “Light on Water”, is the only piece on this motherfucker that breaks the one instrument theme. On this, you’ve got the flute, the piano, and that trusty bucket of electronics. Jacob Greenberg joins Claire to create a musical interpretation on reflection. Starting to see what the fuck is up? Each song is rooted onto a single theme. The instrumental starts the launch. The electronics blasts it the fuck off.
In the last track, as Rebakah Heller’s bassoon reminds me of what it would be like if Kubrick’s 2001 was a comedy, I can’t help think about the relationship between electronic and classical tunes. Enter either field and you’ll eventually find yourself picking flowers in the other. A deep dive into Frahm, Eno, GAS, or Venetian Snares and you’ll find yourself in the caves of Stockhausen, Boulez, Reich, and Xanakis. They’re part of the same fucking body. Steiger’s got the knowledge, chops, and guts to venture into this strange world between the two and stake a claim. Because when you seek truth in music, beyond all else, the limitations of a single genre have rarely got enough fuel to get you there. Is this music strange? Oh fuck ya it is, because it has to be. In one of Douglas Adams’s fucking fantastic of often emblematic books, there’s a character put into solitary confinement after taking too much of a truth-drug. Because of this, he tells the truth in its absolute and final form. Anyone that hears it goes insane. I’m not saying that this music will make you go insane, but if it wasn’t just a bit loopy it wouldn’t be doing it’s fucking job.
-The Brightly Off-Coloured Discophile, 4.30.19
That long title gives you the basics. I could add that there are five pieces here, all except one featuring a single player in combination with audio signal processing. I could throw around terms from Steiger’s liner notes like “virtuosity” and the “intersection of tempered and just intonation,” but in the end, it’s all about sensation and emotion. For the first, there’s the almost tactile nature of the electronic sounds, rich and rounded clouds surrounding clarinet, flute, cello, piano and bassoon, all so perfectly played and recorded that you will feel their physical presence. Miller Puckett, Steiger’s longtime collaborator who writes the software, deserves special mention here, as do the musicians of ICE: Joshua Rubin (clarinet), Claire Chase (flute), Kivie Cahn-Lipman (cello), Jacob Greenberg (piano), and Rebekah Heller (bassoon).
As for the emotion, Steiger’s command of harmony and melody is so finely calibrated that it seems to have a direct connection to my inner state, allowing me to engage on a visceral level. Translation: these five pieces sound fantastic and make me feel all kinds of ways. Regardless if your experience of processed sound comes from Brian Eno or autotune, I think you will agree. And the best news is that Volume 2, featuring the same techniques applied to larger ensembles, is already in the works. If you can’t wait, make sure to revisit A Menacing Plume, Steiger’s superb album with Talea Ensemble from 2014.
-Jeremy Shatan, 5.18.19, An Earful
The International Contemporary Ensemble does a masterful job in bringing Rand Steiger’s music to life on Coalescence Cycle Vol. 1, an album of pieces for instruments and live electronics. What really gripped me about this album was the craftsmanship in integrating the live processing of the instruments in each piece, all of which display a complex web of counterpoint and dialogs between the acoustic instruments and electronics. Steiger’s compositions are unified through his idiosyncratic style and aesthetic - gesturally driven atonal music with a sensitivity to timbre and spectral processing techniques - but each track feels like a breath of fresh air and uniquely separate from one another. Because these works are all by Steiger and have a fairly homogenous sound, and because each piece is so dense, I feel the best approach would be a general overview of the character of each piece as opposed to a more in-depth treatment.
The album opens with Cyclone performed by Joshua Rubin and serves as an exciting introduction to the album in terms of style and energy. This is matched by Claire Chase’s performance of Beacon, with the energy and intensity of the more active/angular passages executed as skillfully as the subtlety and nuance of Steiger’s more lyrical and subdued melodic writing. Chase’s performance of Light on Water is equally captivating. The two works that stood out most to me were Mourning Fog for cello and live electronics performed by Kivie Cahn-Lipman. It’s a 17.5-minute juggernaut that incorporates nearly every element of Steiger’s other works into a cohesive whole that keeps the listener engaged from start to finish. Concatenation for bassoon and electronics, performed by Rebekah Heller. This piece is impressive for the approach to the live processing that seems to adapt to the performer, creating an electronic landscape that’s always shifting and simultaneously maintains a unified identity against, and alongside the bassoon.
I strongly suggest this album for anyone who is a fan of the International Contemporary Ensemble, as this demonstrates some of the soloists performing at the highest level. I would also suggest if you’re not familiary with Rand Steiger’s music this would be a great place to start. Each piece offers a glimpse into the various styles and sonic landscapes you’ll find in his music, and his own unique approach to live processing.
-Jon Fielder, 10.15.19, Klang New Music
Exploratory would seem to be the mot juste here. The music of Rand Steiger seeks to explore the merging of separate sounds into one, while the natural intervals of harmonic series act as Steiger’s guide to generating pitch structures. The result is a unique vocabulary that operates on many levels.
The first piece is Cyclone (2013) for clarinet and electronics. The soundscape is at once alien, frozen yet hypnotic. Inspired by the actual event of two tornadoes in Brooklyn, the electronics sweep and spin the musical material. The title also makes reference to a roller coaster on Coney Island, the interactions between the fabulous playing of clarinettist Joshua Rubin and the electronics a model of its kind, with Rubin ever sensitive to his musical environment.
Scored for flute/piccolo and electronics, Beacon (2015) boasts a fascinating premise. Not only does the title refer to the activities of its dedicatee and performer here, Claire Chase, but also to an imagined beacon that calls to extra-terrestrial life via gestures inspired by Varèse. The alien life is found, a dialog ensues and there is a final place of reflection. While this all sounds very programmatic, the piece has a lyricism that runs through it that perhaps, on an underlying level, speaks of the yearning for mankind to learn that we are not alone in the Universe, or a particular type of deep set loneliness. Claire Chase is totally attuned to Steiger’s language.
The solo instrument for Mourning Fog (2012) is a cello, here the eloquent Kivie Cahn-Lipman. By far the most reflective of the pieces so far, Mourning Fog refers to the mornings (as in time of day) around the coast of San Diego, often cloudy and foggy. As the day progresses this lifts to reveal sunshine and hope. The composer takes this as a metaphor for his personal loss. It is astonishing to find that all of the sounds here are taken from the cello, such are the levels of transformation (all of which conform to the general mood of the piece). At over 17 minutes, this piece is pretty much as long as the first two combined, and this increased sense of space allows the music itself to breathe, to reflect at leisure, and to explore its own pain in its own time. Again inspired by natural phenomena, this time the reflection of light off the Los Peñasquitos Lagoon, Light on Water (2012) for flute, piano and electronics is a study in silvery delicacy. Jacob Greenberg’s traceries ideally complement the agility of Chase’s flute resulting in an experience as elusive yet as special as the moment light does indeed reflect off water. The combination of Chase and Greenberg is a winning one. Think, perhaps, a modernist Ravel, and you have an “in” for the piece.
How ethereally Light on Water ends. Just the perfect stage for the sudden interruption of a low bassoon virtuosically negotiating its nether regions. Composed in 2012, Concatenation for bassoon and electronics is a “nested etudes” piece, the idea of which is that there is a set of contrasting materials, any part of which could form the basis for an etude, become the basis of an ongoing “conversation”. Here, Steiger presents seven different types of material, each with a different approach to signal processing, and each with a label (“Fog,” “bloom,” etc). They are presented in order (and therefore there is something of a sectional nature to the piece early on) before engaging in conversations with one another. Rebekah Heller is a stunning bassoonist. She needs to be, as Steiger’s demands are constant; and how fascinating to hear her in dialogue with her own sounds.
The electronic soundstage for these works was developed by the composer in association with Miller Puckette and his Pure Data software environment. Steiger’s explorations in Digital Signal Processing (the real-time alteration of sounds) is fertile ground indeed. The result is a brilliant exploration of not only soundspace but also of the expressive nature of tuning. The truly great news here is that this is volume one.
The documentation spoils us. First, there are individual notes on the pieces, plus introduction, by the composer himself. This is followed by an extended, excellent, essay by Lukas Schulze. Perhaps a listening strategy might be to save Schultze’s essay until after the music has been heard a couple of times; there is so much to be gleaned that way.
-Colin Clarke, 6.15.19, Fanfare
An acolyte of computer music pioneers, at times this exploration may remind you of a Beaver & Krause test record, at other times, it might feel like out takes from Tomita's "The Planets" as he cranks it up to go to galaxies beyond the stars. Experimental or well composed and plotted? You decide. Listening to textures and more that go beyond music, you can just picture long hairs at a Sunday afternoon wine and cheese things nodding appreciatively and really grooving.
-Chris Spector, 3.26.19, Midwest Record