The University of Iowa composers presented a fantastic concert of varying aesthetics and values within electronic music. With its missing performers, contorted motives, and bursting arrays of sound, electronic and computer music has the potential to leave an audience member feeling awkward. The experience is exclusively temporal. It is the case more so with electronic than acoustic music because of these “missing” factors, or general aspects of a concert. The focus becomes less about beautiful melodies and more about the manipulation of timbre, texture, flux, etc. to create an overarching soundscape. In that regard, University of Iowa Electronic Music Studios (EMS), has accomplished a great deal. The precise, multi-faceted, and imaginative qualities emanated from the individual works made the concert an excellent aural experience for the listener.
The December 14th concert in Becker Communications Building commenced with the audience being plunged into a ruckus noise, if I have ever heard one. The Aggressor, a piece for fixed media and poet by Barry Sharp, startled audiences with its bold and blistering opening passage, disquieting moments of respite, and overall creepy (for lack of a better term) aura. While mostly sound mass in nature, one can especially hear the control over pacing in the opening passage through shifts in timbre, pitch and motivic material, and dynamics. The second piece on the concert was Piques and Vallyes by James Naigus where the utilized the “unique nature of sounds as signals of curiosity and attention as well as vessels of subtlety” to inform the piece. Next was a piece by Bernard Short entitled Ominous Groove. This work along with Odd Combo (later on in the program) by Jonah Lyddon Hatten projected a different sort of aesthetic quality, using elements of pop music such as “beats” and various bass lines within the work. The piece definitely incorporated elements of pop-culture. A highlight of the night was a work by Nima Hamidi entitled Sama; the only work in the concert that involved a lived performer. The piece utilized a more accessible aesthetic—employing a traditional Iranian style—with the composer himself improvising in a seemingly virtuosic fashion on the setar, a folk instrument of Iran.
A work by Joseph Norman called Compulsory Deviations brought back memories of the 1950’s electronic music aesthetic. Using sampled guitar sounds, Norman created an interesting web of timbres, gestures, and very long sounds to create his piece. restoration/alienation was the sixth piece on the program by Jacob Simmons and utilized the aspects of dynamic swells and “density of texture while exploring contrasting timbres and registers.” The timbre and gestures were particularly interesting, and even more so in one of my other favorites from the evening: Plunge and Tumble. Paul Duffy’s use of contrasting timbres and the morphing of gestures over time made this piece enthralling to listen to. The contrasts of bright and dark sounds as well as clear and dull sounds created an exciting landscape for the listener to enjoy.
The penultimate work was Jonathan Wilson’s Chimespace, which involved the sounds of sampled bells in the composer’s personal collection. The manipulation of sounds within the piece created interesting source material as the audience attuned to the actual “ringing of bells and the area in which these sounds are heard.” Finally was Jonah Elrod’s installation IC1223. Using algorithmic techniques, the piece performed a transition from night to day preceding the concert, and afterwards the audience heard the transformations once again, except from day to night. Using the brand new Laptop Orchestra U Iowa (LOUi) speakers, the work acted as a prelude and postlude to the concert and created an interesting aural effect in the lobby of Becker Communications Building. The concert was an enjoyable experience. The program exhibited the diversity in aesthetic values among the composers, in addition to a high level of control and craftsmanship in each individual work.
If you are interested in learning more about the work of composers at the University of Iowa, there is a link here that will take you to the Center for New Music Website. The site contains information about CNM, the composers, and the upcoming and previous concerts for the year.