ArtsATL > Music > Review: Atlanta composers take spotlight as Sonic Generator marries music with technology

Review: Atlanta composers take spotlight as Sonic Generator marries music with technology


Jessica Peek Sherwood performs Jason Freeman's computer-driven "SGLC." (Photos by Rob Felt)

In its ongoing mission to explore the crossroads of music and technology, contemporary ensemble Sonic Generator presented a concert Tuesday in Rich Auditorium. The featured works, save one, were all composed by current or former residents of metro Atlanta. The exception, by Connecticut-based Alvin Lucier, was carefully tied into the program by a thematic connection.

“ViPer,” by Tae Hong Park, opened the show, followed by the world premiere of “this(continuity)” by Pedro Rivadeneira. Both were scored for amplified acoustic instruments plus electronic tape and included the use of some extended techniques for the instruments. Rivadeneira’s piece used them in a more extreme manner, more in the context of a somewhat disjointed, pointillistic texture.

“Bleached White,” Steven Everett’s piece for solo flute and live electronics, came next. His composition was inspired by “Vinette,” one of the poems in Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Tretheway’s 2002 collection, “Bellocq’s Ophelia.” The poems are a re-imagining of the thoughts of a young prostitute photographed by E.J. Bellocq (who inspired the Louis Malle film “Pretty Baby”) in New Orleans in 1912. Performed by flutist Jessica Peek Sherwood, Everett’s musical analogy to Tretheway’s poem is an ethereal aural reverie, otherworldly in its portrayal of the prostitute’s dreams of a different life.

Helen Hwaya Kim on violin; Tim Whitehead on the laptop.

Re-imaginings continued to be at play in two subsequent works, “Nothing Is Real (Strawberry Fields)” by Alvin Lucier and “Strawberry Fields Continued” by Adam Silverman. Both are based upon the Beatles song “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Lucier is an unduly ignored pioneer in evoking the acoustical resonance of rooms and non-musical objects for musical purposes. He is perhaps best known for his “I Am Sitting in a Room.” In “Nothing Is Real,” pieces of the melody were played by pianist Tim Whitehead on different octaves of a grand piano, sustained as clusters with the damper pedal depressed.

All the while, this part was recorded on a cassette tape. At the end, Whitehead rewound the tape and played it back through a speaker hidden in a metal teapot that sat on the piano. He raised and lowered the lid of the teapot, changing its resonant characteristics, dramatically altering the sound, twice lifting the teapot off the piano entirely.

Silverman, with Ted Gurch on bass clarinet and digital sampler in duo with cellist Brad Ritchie, began “Strawberry Fields Continued” with a mix tape that started with the ending of the familiar Beatles recording and continued with a collage of sounds from other recordings released on the Beatles’ “Anthology” in 1995. Samples of John Lennon’s voice and added pre-recorded cellos all went into the mix.

The concert closed with the premiere of “SGLC” by Jason Freeman, which reflects the composer’s continued interest in spontaneous collaborative composition and performance. It’s a logical next step after his 2010 work “LOLC,” for four laptop computers.

In “SGLC,” four musicians onstage (Freeman, Sang Won Lee, Tom Sherwood and Tim Whitehead) improvised music on the fly using laptops, creating instructions for single tones, sequences of tones and rhythms, and ways of sharing, borrowing and combining these among them. These were then presented in real time, as they were created, on the computer screens of four musicians with acoustic instruments: Jessica Sherwood on flute, Ted Gurch on bass clarinet, Helen Kim on violin and Brad Ritchie on cello. Those four were all required to instantly sight-read the materials on their screens as the notation appeared.

As with Freemen’s laptop orchestral work “LOLC,” the “score” is the software, or “collaborative textual performance environment,” for realizing the performance. The choice of musical material was rather easy on the ears, but what seems more important is the study of how humans interact and make decisions in that kind of environment.

To that end, Freeman’s graduate students from Georgia Tech were able to record the entire chronology of the keystrokes while recording the audio to synchronize with it. Lab animals, perhaps, but no musicians were harmed in the course of the experiment.

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