Sonic Generator @ MOCA

Hobbling down the stairs of the Tula Art Center to MOCA’s space for the Sonic Generator concert was unpleasant, but they gave me some Riesling to dull the pain and rewarded me with a good performance of some pretty interesting music.

The first three pieces involved electronic modulation of one kind or another. Davis’ Like Sweet Bells Jangled was written for clarinet and percussion. As the musicians play, the sound is fed into a mixing board that multiplies the sounds together. I could probably give a reasonable sounding facsimile of an explanation of what that means but I’d probably be embarrassingly wrong. My limited understanding, however, didn’t prevent me from appreciating the effect: a series of complimentary tones accompanying the two musicians to fill out the piece into something that was not at all out of tune and harsh, as the quote from Shakespeare from which the piece gets its name concludes, but really quite appealing. I would be really interested in hearing how the piece would sound with different timbers: maybe keeping the clarinet but, perhaps, using a something wooden for the percussion. I wonder how much it would affect the electronic effects to do something like that.

Ingram Marshall’s September Canons was written for a solo violin playing with time-delayed recordings of herself. I’ve heard a number of variations on this effect and some worked really well and others kind of fell flat. This particular piece wasn’t among my favorite to use the technique but it was certainly decent. It took me a while to get into the piece; it felt to me like it wasn’t living up to its potential at first. About half-way through, however, it hit a point that brought to mind whale song and finally began to hold my ear and capture my mind. It then moved into a more dancey realm, with repeated pizzicato notes producing an almost flamenco rhythm, and then settling into something that reminded me somewhat of Central European folk melodies. I liked Kim’s playing and think that she really brought a good sound to the piece.

The final piece to use electronic sounds was Daniel Trueman’s Nostalgic Synchronic for prepared digital piano. This was a play on Cage’s prepared piano but, instead of inserting objects into the strings of the piano to physically change the way the instrument sounds, the electric piano is fed through a processor to assign different effects to the keys, such as a reversed intonation or modulation to a mid-tone. The piece was comprised of three etudes, each with a different preparation. The first étude I could take or leave: it didn’t make much of an impression on me. The second was really beautiful, though, and the third was interesting, presenting delightful music occasionally intruded upon by tense, dramatic sounds. I’m not sure, but I suspect that there are actually more etudes that weren’t played: the overall piece felt a little incomplete and I can’t recall if that was mentioned or not when it was introduced.

Next was a piece called Delete/Control/Option by Marcos Balter, a title that served as a reminder that musicians use Apple products. This was a fully acoustic piece for alto flute and cello that produced a soundscape that somewhat drew me in. The thing that really caught my interest was that portions of the cello part were to be played at varying distances from the instrument’s bridge to alter the sound. (Ritchie actually crossed the bridge twice, though I suspect those were accidents.) I wish that I was the sort who would have stayed behind to ask to peek at the music because I’m really curious as to how that was notated.

They concluded the concert with a solid performance of Philip Glass’ Music in a Similar Motion, although the electric organ was a touch overpowering. It’s hard not to like Philip Glass’ music, although I don’t think that I have terribly much to say about it.

Overall, this was a good program. I almost always come away from Sonic Generator concerts feeling like I’ve learned something about the potential of music and I really appreciate that they usually introduce the pieces that make up their program in a way that helps me understand the techniques being used but that don’t take away from the sense that it’s a concert and not a music class.

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