Three Microtonal CDs reviewed

My shortish review of three CDs from the American Festival of Microtonal Music is now online:

As with the disc Ideas, reviewed previously on these pages, these three CDs from the American Festival of Microtonal Music combine historical curios, forgotten treasures and new compositions. For those interested in the history and development of microtonal music Gems is the must-have recording. This includes Canticle #3, written in 1941 by a 24-year-old Lou Harrison, Harry Partch’s US Highball and Mordecai Sandberg’s Psalm 51 no.2, for soprano and orchestra (1944), as well as Qoheleth by AFMM director Johnny Reinhard. US Highball is the real draw – an American musical landmark – but Harrison’s Canticle should not be overlooked: it’s an exotic/junkyard fantasy moulded into rhythmic formality and stylistic coolness in a way that recalls Cage’s percussion Constructions of the same era.

Continue reading at Musical Pointers.

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More Innova releases reviewed

Yoav Gal and Yael Kanarek: Bit by bit, cell by cell [info]

Bit By Bit, Cell By Cell: music for soprano & Atari 800XLTaking his cue from the hyperlinked, hyperreal digital landscapes of Yael Kanarek’s WorldofAwe, Yoav Gal constructs 11 sonic typographies from an old Atari 800XL, the voice of soprano Sarah Rivkins, and some alert sounds borrowed from Apple. Repeating layers of samples are deposited on top of one another until out of the cumulative weight are forced verdant valleys and hard mountain ranges. The texture is at once enveloping water and resistant granite. Intended originally for choreography – a sample video is included on this enhanced CD – it is effective, music of physical effect demanding a physical response.

Gal’s compositional technique borrows much from medieval polyphony: vocal samples stretched inside the Atari across an inhuman tessitura create possibilities for refined mensural canons, as well as a curious human-nonhuman chorus effect that can be melody, accompaniment and sonic environment all at once.

It is in this world that the Traveller of WoA finds herself in pursuit of an elusive treasure. Her journal narrates her experiences in this mysterious world; she also uses it to set down letters to an anonymous and absent lover. WoA is set in a hinterland that is both sunset and sunrise; and this is also how she comes to sign the letters. It soon becomes apparent that dusk/dawn is not the only duality that has been obliterated, as voice becomes sound, organic becomes digital, Traveller becomes landscape. It is no longer clear in this hexadecimal hallucination who these letters are from, or who they are to. In the end, as the Traveller gives herself up, bit by bit, cell by cell, to the rapture of digital oblivion, she perhaps discovers that after all, she is also the treasure she has been searching for.

It’s fairly high-concept stuff – and you can include the low-tech approach in that equation – but perfectly accessible and often quite beautiful for it.

Download “Grid” (mp3)
from “Bit By Bit, Cell By Cell: music for soprano & Atari 800XL”
by Yoav Gal & Yael Kanarek
Innova Recordings

More On This Album


Harry Partch: Enclosure 7 [info]

This DVD, the culminating part of Philip Blackburn’s series of Partch releases for Innova, is something special. It features Stephen Pouliot’s classic 1972 documentary on Partch, The Dreamer that Remains, a remastered 1971 film of Partch’s magnum opus Delusion of the Fury (with excellent sound), a 40-minute slideshow accompanying the ‘bonus album’ of Partch describing his instruments (a recording that accompanied some of the original boxsets of Delusion of the Fury), extracts from a 1960 performance of Revelation in the Courthouse Park, and a Dreamer outtake in which Partch rants against insensitive reviewers, makes some rose petal jam, and does a strange little dance. If you have any real interest in American music, unusual music, instrument manufacture, music theatre, the hobo lifstyle or jam recipes there is no good reason why you shouldn’t buy this DVD.