Review originally published in Computer Music Journal 25/2 (Summer 2001). Reprinted with kind permission of the publisher.
Presence II is an appropriate title for the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC)/Productions Electro Productions (PeP) latest two compact disc set of electroacoustic compositions. By definition, “presence” is the state of being present (such as the listener’s physical presence) or a person or thing that is present (as there is a presence in the listening room when hearing this music). Presence II is an international collection of works from 13 countries: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Korea, Spain, Taiwan, and USA. It is the second self-funded CD project of CEC/PeP and features a total of 34 compositions by 32 composers. The first noticeable characteristic of this collection is the variety: works that deal with text and voice, the use and creation of new electronic sounds, rhythmic variations and soundscapes, and a single acoustic source exploration. Works on Presence II range in duration anywhere from 0:37 to 12:36.
La beauté indiscrète d’une note violette (1995) by Brazilian composer Jorge Antunes is the opening track of the first disc. The entire composition is an electroacoustic exploration and transformation of a single pitch, E. The fascinating timbral changes of octave material with the juxtaposition of a sung vocal sound on “no” make for an interesting work. Mr. Antunes bases this composition on his theory of Chromophonique, in which octaves of this particular pitch correspond to the color violet. Other works of the collection that were created from a single sound-source exploration include Gordon Fitzell’s Zipper Music II (1998) and Jørgen Teller’s H a e i o u y æ ø å pt. 2 (ex.). Mr. Teller’s excerpt is also a composition based on a single idea, in this case human laughter. He uses a more rhythmic approach through the juxtaposition of sound loops to accomplish his single-source exploration.
There is something for every listener’s musical tastes on Presence II. While compositions that are relatively short in duration but definitely not in content make up the majority of the works, a few of them are excerpts from larger electroacoustic compositions. These include Hans Tutschku’s densely processed soundscape, extrémités lointaines (ex.) (1998), Dugal McKinnon’s sporadic electronic conversation of sounds, Horizont im Ohr (ex.) (1998), Martin Gotfrit’s timbral exploration of filtration, A Palaver with Procrustes (ex.) (1998), and Adrian Moore’s fast paced, vocally playful Soundbodies: Bodypart (1998). According to Mr. Moore, his featured excerpt is representative of a 55-min composition/installation/ collaboration for two singers, dancers, video, and electronic sounds entitled Soundbodies. Although Canadian composer Yves Gigon’s Éphémère (1997) is not an excerpt, it was created from a larger sound sculpture. This is a colorful composition both in the sonic material presented and the effective spatialization used to draw the sounds into a three-dimensional realm. Jef Chippewa’s DUO (1997–1998) uses the acoustic sounds of a saxophone in playful communication with a synthesizer. The sonic illusions and transformations of original material along with impressive aural sound placement make for a very effective composition.
If your time is limited, there are even shorter works, such as Ian Chuprun’s word play, Reading Allowed (PA 11) (1998) and Jean Routhier’s pop-based Stereotyped Latter-Day Opinion (1999). The briefest composition on Presence II is Chris Wind’s to be led (1993), a 37-sec whimsical version of a waltz. Mr. Chuprun’s composition was written for the Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre (BEAST) Web site. It uses spoken phrases playfully processed to sound as if created with early computer music techniques. In keeping with the theme—electroacoustic works that employ the use of text and voice—British composer Alastair Bannerman’s manipulation and treatment of a young voice in his work, In th’air or th’earth (1997, revised 1998–1999) immediately summons up aural images of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s well-known Gesang der Jünglinge (1956). In this composition, the text, both sung and spoken, comes from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. This is a well-composed and stimulating composition. Steve Bradley’s “volalle melodie vi to trot” / “fowl melody to trot” (1999) also employs text and voice. The spoken text in this composition is made to sound like an old phonograph recording juxtaposed with the voices of children at play. The treatment of word play in this work is reminiscent of compositions by Annette Vande Gorne as featured on her 1998 Impalpables, created with poet Werner Lambersy.
Presence II contains a number of works by composers who have received international recognition for their compositional achievements. It is also important to note that there are a fair number of women composers included in this collection. Chin-Chin Chen’s Points of No Return (1997) features a unique sound world highlighted by her placement of silence and subtle repetition, at times creating a drone-like background. This composition won First Prize in the Concorso Internazionale Luigi Russolo in Varese, Italy. One of my favorite works is Sylvi MacCormac’s Spirit Wheels: Journey (part 1 of a puppet opera) (1997). The way in which she uses the processed pennywhistle motif to enclose her composition produces a definite sense of arrival by the end. It is this, combined with the processing effects used on the spoken and sung voices, and the lyrical lines, that create a satisfying listening experience. If you are in the mood for a more acoustic realm, then Canadian composer Diana McIntosh’s Climb to Camp One (1989) will be to your liking. It is performed entirely on an amplified piano featuring the ambient sounds of the piano’s strings. This is combined with a rhythmic flare and a splash of vocal interjections to produce an entertaining, storytelling work. Pascale Trudel’s Ce n’est pas ici (1999) also features familiar acoustic material. In this case, sounds such as crackling fire, voices, thunder, and various other snippets of nature are presented on their own or juxtaposed, stimulating remembrances of sounds one might hear over a lifetime. Moving back into what is more commonly thought of as electroacoustic music, Belgian composer Annette Vande Gorne’s Amoroso: Vox Alia, 2e mouvement (1998) is a calming composition, a sonic study based on a Gregorian chant, highlighting the melodic, rhythmic, and timbral transformations of the voice.
Presence II definitely features a wide variety of compositional styles. For a taste of nostalgia, there is Argentinean composer Martin Alejandro Fumarola’s ARGOS (1988) and SET IN (1994). The first was created with a Yamaha DX7 and a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and the second with a Yamaha TG7 tone generator and a sequencing program. For more pop-based sounds incorporated into a composition, there is Finnish composer Antti Saario’s BSide (1998), whereas water sounds play an active role in Canadian composer Dave Solursh’s composition, We (1998). Effective use of aural placement of sounds can be heard in Mr. Chuprun’s journey of electronic sounds in To many moments passed (1998), which highlight this work’s rich sonic colors. Near the end of the second disc is Todor Todoroff’s serene employment of voice and breath sounds in Voices Part I (version stéréo) (1997). Daniel Zimbaldo’s meditative tapestry of electronic transformations rounds out this remarkable collection with Au-delà du miroir (1998).
Kudos to the composers, producers, and anyone else involved in deciding the order that each extraordinary work appears on Presence II. I strongly believe that the organization of pieces of music (be it a concert, a recording, or a radio broadcast) is in itself a work of music on a macrocosmic level. In general, both discs of the set feature works that are complementary to one another when listened to in the order presented, creating a relaxing, calming listening experience. Presence II is a great sonic escape from the daily bombardment of sound stresses such as traffic, construction, and neighborhood activity. This is an excellent collection of current electroacoustic music, giving a presence of its own to the existing repertoire. For those who might be interested, Presence II is available for free with every CEC membership.