IN: Reviews

Dark Night for Sonic Landscapes


Over the past two years, electroacoustic music concerts in Boston have shown some real signs of promise in this fringe area, but there were only glimpses of such in “Sonic Landscapes” Saturday evening at the Fenway Center. Virtually all but one of the evening’s five entries fell short of the mark as we listened in darkness. Boredom turned to frustration. In one case, tedium turned to disgust then impatience, all of which had me thinking of making an early exit.

As we made our way over the Mass Ave Bridge back to our car, our evening was brightened by MIT’s multi-storied building display of a Tetris game in action. Caught by surprise, we stood, gazing in fascination, as lighted tetriminos moved, rotated, crossed, and dropped to the growing pile. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a must [here]. Back to the concert.

Northeastern University’s Contemporary Music Concert Series, “Nu Sounds,” included works of Mike Frengel, Hans Tutschku, and Trevor Wishart, whose music was featured. Frengel’s Sarteano, estate for 8-channel sound projection began with the likenesses of crickets sounding closer and closer. “Sarteano is a small town in the Tuscany region of Italy,” writes the composer. “Summers are particularly lively in Italy as towns hold a variety of celebrations, concerts and festivals characteristic of their region. In Sarteano, these festivities culminate in the Saracino, a sort to jousting match…”

Delightful knife-like punctuations cut through the opening that exposed more and more of Frengel’s excellent choices of Sarteno’s festive sounds, some of them just peeking through attractive textures. His tasty splices of the accordion could serve as an example of his highly appealing conjuring up of Italian imagery; so, too could his manipulated sound of a motor scooter zooming around Fenway Center. When the piece became loud, however, it stepped into electroacoustic cliche, too much jousting, I guess. But if is there is anything good to remember about this concert, it would be Frengel’s down to earth yet finely crafted picture-making.

Tutschku’s Rojo for 8-channel sound projection, has us in the middle of nowhere, as the composer described it to us. We don’t know the languages spoken, we are not sure if we are in the middle of a war, or what. It’s a “weird” state of being pulled here and there. This is somewhat how I perceived “Rojo” even before Tutschku gave his description. The work was mostly confusing. Going to the core of its composition, the crescendo took over, becoming a structural and perhaps even an expressive device.

Such pronounced dependence on crescendo was still more evident in Trevor Wishart’s Imago. The 30-minute oeuvre was to be a “metamorphism” as we were reminded of the how the smallest substance can become something as magnificent as a butterfly. For Wishart, the smallest substance was the sound of two whiskey glasses tapped together. Whiskey is what I wanted more of throughout this indulgent work. Time and again there was pretense of ending these electroacoustic annoyances and pure tedium, but no such luck. On and on “Imago” took on the whisky glasses. The tickling clicking passages might have remained in the mind if the blasting crashing “climaxes” had not obliterated them. Volume and mass do not necessarily equal climax.

If this were not enough already, Wishart positioned himself on a stool spotlighted center stage before a microphone for his “Vocalise.” Possibly an attempt to parody the base human condition, it was revolting vocal improvisation. From guttural to goofy, mindless to inane, I hope never to encounter such a farce ever again.

Wishart describes his Globalalia as “the universal dance of human speech as revealed in twenty tales from everywhere spoken in tongues.”  After only minutes into this sterile and static globalization, I was forced to make a hasty retreat.

Mike Frengel serves on the faculty of the music departments of Northeastern University and Boston Conservatory. Hans Tutschku directs the electroacoustic studios at Harvard University. Trevor Wishart was composer-in-residence in the North East England (based at Durham University) and Artist-in-Residence at the University of Oxford.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.

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