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Sound Studio Concert

Horacio Vaggione: Schall (electroacoustic)
Erik Nystrom: Elemental Chemistry (electroacoustic)
Adam Asnan: Grumbles, Lapses (electroacoustic)
Newton Armstrong: Three Windows (piano and electronics)
Evan Johnson: Dehiscences, Lullay ("Thou nost whider it whil turne") (piano and cassette player)
Luigi Nono: ...sofferte onde serene... (piano and electronics)

Mark Knoop, piano

Performance Space, College Building, City University, London, 16 February 2010

Photo: Will Goring (Mark Knoop & Newton Armstrong)

Despite torrential rain a good number made it to City University’s well-appointed Performance Space for a recital of works for piano and electronics.


Newton Armstrong’s Three Windows explored the resonances of the piano – the second through silently depressed keys, the first and third through live electronics. The piano writing was atonal and rhythmically jagged, but in a way that allowed for drifts of sweeter colours, particularly in the overtone hazes of the second movement. The electronic treatment acted as an extended resonator, drawing the piano sounds out in unfamiliar directions, distorting them, microtonally altering their pitch, changing the timbre or adding glissando effects. This gave the hard piano sounds a softer, more organic afterlife (or magnified a hidden organicism). Although the pieces were short, Armstrong achieved an attractive balance between light and firm textures.


Erik Nyström’s electroacoustic work Elemental Chemistry took a less dialectical approach, seeking a continuous evolution of single sound sources. The idea was inspired by the continual variation of nature. But, unlike nature, there was no catastrophe or failure. Everything was kept at a more or less constant pitch of success and over the span of 12 minutes I found it wearing.


In his electroacoustic piece, Adam Asnan eschewed Nyström’s maximalism for a more fractured series of sudden outbursts and near-silences. I understand the temptation in the studio to keep piling more detail in, but it is almost always more rewarding when things are left out. Here, each utterance found itself stalling midway through, leaving only a low sine tone as evidence that any music was still happening. The rhetorical effect, impressively sustained throughout, was of statements or short chapters with beginnings and middles, but no ends.


Evan Johnson’s Dehiscences, Lullay was the most low-tech – and, interestingly, most enigmatic – piece of the evening. Although scored for piano and tape, the latter consisted simply of a loop of white noise, played over a cheap tape deck. This ran almost continuously, with only occasional step-changes in volume or pauses/restarts, just enough for it to affirm its own musical presence. The piano writing, by contrast, was densely gestural, swinging between violent eruptions (Knoop using his elbows at some points) and delicate cantilenas. Much of the material was highly compressed, struggling, unlike the tape, to find an easy route to identity, instead floundering in an overspillling abundance of flurries and ornaments.


The final work was that masterpiece for piano and tape, Luigi Nono’s … sofferte onde serene …. This is only known to me in performances by its dedicatee, Maurizio Pollini, so I was excited to hear Knoop’s quite different take. Whereas Pollini emphasises the serenity of the title and a close integration of piano and tape, Knoop broke the two apart, clearing away any mystical connections and exposing the music’s inner mechanisms. At first my ears resisted this, but it came to sound like a valuable interpretation that revealed new aspects of Nono’s conception.


Unfortunately I arrived late for the punctual 7pm start and missed Vaggione’s electroacoustic piece.


Tim Rutherford-Johnson

Arriving at the venerable College Building for the first time, by way of flooded pavements to be negotiated, I was astonished by its interior and the recently completed futuristic Sound Studio in the basement, an auditorium for some sixty listeners, surrounded by a multitude of loud speakers.

The first electro-acoustic work, Vaggione's Schall, provided experience of the sound quality that can be distributed from state-of-the-art equipment. The piece caught and held the attention, at times belying the fact that it had been created entirely from sampled piano sounds. The projection was full, but never too loud for sensitive ears.

The programme notes for this concert were only dimly comprehensible for a musical generalist, so I was delighted that our specialist reviewer arrived for the second item...

See http://www.city.ac.uk/music/concerts/ for concerts at City University; the next Sound Studio concert will be on 16 March [Editor]