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Douglas Lilburn, "Complete Electro-Acoustic Works"

Douglas Lilburn was already an award-winning composer when he turned from conventional music to focus on electronic music, founding New Zealand’s first electronic music studio at Victoria University of Wellington in the late 1960s. The three CDs and the DVD comprising this collection contain many valuable pieces that highlight Lilburn’s contributions to the electronic form.

 

Atoll

Lilburn was particularly interested in evoking New Zealand’s natural environment, which he does through meditative drones. Using electronics to replicate concrete elements like ocean waves and birds, he also adds conceptual touches like the stretched tones mimicking bird flight in “Sounds and Distances.” Although he doesn’t often use voices in his work, when he does they are among his better pieces. One of the best tracks is “The Return,” which uses a Maori woman’s voice as a compositional element before turning to a man’s recitation of Alistair Campbell’s poem of the same name.

In addition to his more formal works, included here are his studies documenting his experimentation with singular ideas or techniques, such as the two separate groups each collectively entitled “Five Toronto Pieces,” which were recorded six years apart, as well as a soundtrack for a dance sequence. The DVD contains a few all-too-short excerpts from films that find Lilburn demonstrating his techniques and talking about his ideas, two songs reproduced in four channels as he originally intended, and an illuminating audio interview.

One commonality among these different musical projects is the meticulousness with which they were created. Lilburn struggled with the primitive equipment he had at his disposal and his poise and patience are evidenced in every recording. Rather than settling for unpredictable effects, he took the time to study the technology in depth and harness it to his own end. There are a few places in the collection that hit an introspective plateau and lose some momentum, but for the most part each disc is arranged non-chronologically in a way that balances the different dynamic levels found in Lilburn’s works. I found the third disc to be the most consistently rewarding, yet the other two discs hit peaks just as high.

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The Eye: Video of the Day

Bardo Pond

YouTube Video


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Review of the Day

Max Neuhaus, "Fontana Mix - Feed (six realizations of John Cage)"
Alga Marghen
Live electronic music performance was a novelty in 1964 as was the use of electronic percussion instruments. Perhaps even more progressive was that Max Neuhaus' version of Cage's Fontana Mix is used nothing but feedback. Neuhaus placed contact microphones on top of kettle drums and put the drums in front of loud speakers. The microphones were free to move around on the drums. The performer controlled the intensity of each microphone with a mixer and Neuhaus did this following a performance score that he prepared from John Cage's Fontana Mix. This indeterminate composition from 1958 comprises a grid and a set of curved lines, some with dots, on transparencies. The interpreter arranges these in superposition to create a unique new graphic image from which, following the instructions, a performance score from is derived. Using this procedure Neuhaus created the set of curves that he used to control the intensity of each microphone in the mix and used this score in each performance. However, the feedback system itself is a very sensitive and unpredictable instrument, so much so that even following the same score the resulting music is essentially indeterminate. Hence the six different versions on this CD, four live and two studio recordings, spanning 1965-68 are very different from each other. Neuhaus, a brilliant and highly respected percussionist, would put Feed on the program of high-brow contemporary percussion concerts in places like the Carnegie Recital Hall and he would play it very loud. It's amusing to imagine the responses in the highly cultivated audiences. The remarkable thing is that even in today's context with decades of noise art behind us, Neuhaus' trail-blazing performances from the mid 60s are brilliant. The music is relentless feedback noise but has a structural complexity that, if you can tolerate its basic assault, is fascinating and hypnotic. It is piercing and very abrasive but once immersed in it, and if you are willing to play it loud enough, its vitality and detail are consuming. Neuhaus' musical genius blazes through this brutal material in manner that puts many a modern noise artist in their place.

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