The Body Electric presented by Oni Buchanan, a Center for New Music Concert

Center for New Music Concert: November 17, 2011

“The Body Electric”

Presented by Oni Buchanan, piano

            The title of this concert actually provides a wonderful introduction to what the concert really was.  The music programmed was almost entirely a synthesis of electronic and piano music.  The pieces were performed to a tape track accompaniment with live music presented by Ms. Buchanan on the piano.  The scene that greeted the audience was almost that of a rock concert, with large speakers set to either side of the stage, a couple of standing microphones set up to amplify the piano and a separate microphone to the side.  An extra piano bench was set up next to the piano with a laptop on it and large speakers were set to the sides of the stage.

The program consisted of six pieces, one of which was a collection of three smaller etudes.  There were no program notes handed out, but the Center for New Music website included program notes on its website.  The notes and other information about this concert can be found on their website by following this link www.uiowa.edu/~cnm/.

The artist’s biography states that she is not only an accomplished pianist with a M.M. from New England Conservatory and an active performing career, but is also a published poet with an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop.  She likes to perform contemporary works, especially those of women composers.  On this concert, four female composers and only one male composer were represented.  All five of the composers are still living and composing. Four have personal websites that I have listed below and the other, Mei-Fang Lin has several sites with biographical information, though none seem to be her official website.

Missy Mazzoli -   www.missymazzoli.com/

Carolyn Yarnell – http://carolynyarnell.com/

Cindy Cox – http://cacox.com/index.html

Jacob Ter Veldhuis – http://www.jacobtv.net/

The two works by Missy Mazzoli, Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos and Orizzonte are somewhat similar in sound.  Isabelle Eberhardt is a piece that draws to mind the programmatic music of the Romantic period.  The harmonies were clearly triadic, though not following any tonality.  A taped accompaniment provided constant evocation of the dream while the piano provided a rhythmic counterpart emphasizing the character’s movement.  The piece uses quotations of Schubert’s A Major Sonata that would be hidden to the listener unfamiliar with Schubert’s writing.   Orizzonte, though not programmatic like Isabelle Eberhardt, is also to a taped accompaniment track that also allows most of the rhythmic interest to stay with the live performer and the piano.  The harmonies are, again, triadic though not tonal.

Interaction, by Mei-Fang Lin, was a piece that begged the listener to decide whether the electronic accompaniment was trying to imitate the piano, or the piano trying to imitate the electronics.  The opening of the piece sounded almost like recorded wind chimes that the live performer attempted to imitate on the piano, but throughout the piece it became clear that the two instruments were almost having a conversation.  For this piece, the title truly described how the two different media uniquely came together to create a dialogue.

The third piece on the program, Carolyn Yarnell’s The Same Sky, seemed to have one of the most interesting uses of modern electronics.  It was supposed to be performed with taped accompaniment, live piano, and video projected on the inside of the lifted lid of the piano.  However, for this performance, the video was unavailable.  Not much reason was given for why there was no video, just a quick word from Ms. Buchanan telling the audience it should be there but would not be for this performance.  Though I’ve never seen the piece performed before, I distinctly felt that the video would have added a great deal to this piece.  Without it, the piece felt a little long and somewhat stagnant, though imagining an endlessly moving sky inside the piano seemed to make a little more sense of the music.  Unfortunately, my imagination had a hard time continuing to project this image and the actual video would have made the performance seem more complete.

Ms. Buchanan played three piano etudes from Cindy Cox’s larger set entitled Hierosgamos: Studies in Harmony and Resonance.  These etudes were the only pieces on the program that did not include electronics.  They were fairly short and each had a very distinct character.  Especially the second and third of these etudes that Ms. Buchanan played seemed to invoke memories of Charles Ives’s piano works.

The final piece on the concert was by far the one that engaged the audience most.  It was by the Dutch avant-garde composer Jacob TV whose music is known as “boombox music.”  He is known for using sound clips of American TV programs to create melodies that are then reinterpreted by classical instruments, like the piano.  This piece was to an infomerical for a product that claimed to help people lose weight by electrically shocking the abdominal muscles to stimulate the muscles.  The concept was very unique, fun, and it allowed the audience to really get involved in the music.

For more information on the performer, Oni Buchanan, visit this link to her website, www.onibuchanan.com/ .

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