Vol. 26 Issue 1 Reviews
Sonic Arts Circuit VIII: International Electronic Music Festival
American Composers Forum, Boston Area Chapter & Boston Cyberarts Festival, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 27-28 April 2001

Reviewed by David Cleary
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” This opening phrase pair from the novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens aptly describes the gamut of compositional quality in the two concerts presented by the American Composers Forum-Boston Area Chapter under the banner “Sonic Circuits VIII.” In short, pieces ranged from first rate to abysmal.

The best items on the Friday concert proved very satisfying. Dennis Miller’s video-with-music entry, Second Thoughts (2000), is eerie and disquieting, full of striking, often hallucinogenic abstract images and highly evocative music. It possesses a strong feel for form and a nicely gauged sense of flow. Flight (1989) by Ezra Sims pits a warm yet forceful solo flute line against a prerecorded tape teeming with undulating sounds suggestive of highly stylized organ music. The work’s twisting, oozing microtonal pitch constructs keep the listener enjoyably intrigued. Flautist Kirsten Wegeman performed the solo part ably. Charles Dodge’s ethereal and charming tape piece Fades, Dissolves, and Fizzles (2000), finds decent variety within its predominately high tessitura sound world. Cast in a multi-layer variation format, the piece does become a bit predictable as it unfolds, but it knows when to stop. Unfortunately, this is more than can be said for the remainder of the program. Noises (1999) by Amnon Wolman, Jorrit Dijkstra’s Improvisation (2001), and two works by Ron Kuivila, TECHOIRAMA (obsessive/compulsive) (2001) and The Beatification of the Facsimile Tone (2000), all suffer from the same ills that plague Lou Reed’s album Metal Machine Music: glacial unfolding, non-existent structure, monochromatic sonics, and staggering length. The less said about these self-indulgent entries, the better.

The Saturday concert had its share of winners as well. Ileana Perez-Velazquez’s …Un ser con unas alas enormes… (1996) surrounds its showy, challenging solo violin part with a fragmentary tape backing that adapts material from John Cage’s Freeman Etude No. 17. Despite its angular and dissonant sound world, this nicely constructed piece proves highly effective. Kristina Nilsson played the violin part with flair. Lunar Nutrition (2001) by David Bryant and Timaeus I and II (both 1999) by Neil Leonard gave their jazz quintet and computer-sounds combination fruitful platforms for some splendid improvising. Mr. Bryant (keyboards) and Mr. Leonard (saxophones/computer sounds) were solidly bolstered by Badal Roy (tabla), John Lockwood (bass), and Bob Gullotti (drums). Arun Chandra’s the gift of gab (1997) and Richard Lerman’s Border Fence and Changing State 6 (both 2000) were less successful. The first of these, a solo tape entity, employs bland sounds and progresses predictably, while Mr. Lerman’s soundscapes are shapeless, eccentric, and timbrally static. Changing State 6 did provide what is likely the most unusual program note sentence encountered in some time, though: “Since 1986, I have written many pieces for self-built metal microphones which are played using small jeweler’s propane torches.” Would that the piece itself had been as fascinating.

True enough, this was a decidedly mixed pair of evenings. But, if the pun be pardoned, the best items heard here pleased like the dickens.