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Friday, February 21, 2020

APNM, Volume One, Chamber Music, Volume Two, Computer + Electronic Music

The APNM (Association for the Promotion of New Music) provides the New Music community out there with an invaluable boost. It came into being in 1975 thanks to Jacques-Louis Monod "as a community of American composers with the purpose of sharing common musical values and creating a network of professional support. APNM fosters the compositional creativity of its members by offering performances of their music, publication services, and promotional visibility."

Accordingly they have recently released a well conceived anthology of some 14 works in a double CD set entitled Music from the APNM Volume One, Chamber Music and Volume Two, Computer + Electronic Music (New Focus Recordings FCR248).

There is quite a bit of good music to be heard, all in a more or less High Modern vein, that is to say music of a certain level of abstraction, traditionally untraditional without necessarily being dodecaphonic or atonal (although that not being "prohibited" either), that creates an aural color field via unusual instrumental combinations, electronic timbral niceties and expressive fullness. Each is a world unto itself.

The anthology starts out with two works combining traditional Chinese or Korean and conventional Western instruments in intriguing ways, with Stephen Dydo's "Wind Chimes" (2012) for pipa and guitar followed by Laurie San Martin's "Elective Affinities" (2010) for gayageum and string quartet. Both thoroughly bridge the East-West gap with contentual affinity and a sort of middle ground between the ultra-new and the considered tradition.

A very dynamic and rather exciting solo piano work follows, Tom James' "Odd Numbers" (2015). It has a rolling sort of unfolding that is acrobatic in its kinetic force and articulate in its nimble juggling of melodic and harmonic elements.

A nicely inventive midi-based sound color sampling follows with Elaine Barkin's "Faygele's Footsteps" (2007). Color contrasts work together to create a kind of mosaic that is both intriguing and musically satisfying. One hears adroit juxtapositions of Gamelan tones intertwining with Western instruments and electronically enhanced complexes. It is a pleasure to hear.

A chamber confluence of definite interest follows in Sheree Clement's 2009 "Round Trip Ticket: A Theme with Variations for Seven Players." One revels in dynamic chains of figuration that unwind in tableaux of sectional timbral juxtapositions. Well done!

And then follows the final work of the first volume, Joseph Hudson's 2010 "Starry Night" for piano and electronic sounds, which paves the way for the second volume and its computer-electronic emphasis. Hudson creates a kind of majesty of sequencing and a superior melding of the acoustics of the piano with the related electronic transformations that accompany and complete the aural soundscape.

The Computer + Electronic Music volume that follows keeps up the momentum with eight works of interest, six comprising "fixed audio media," or in other words the more traditional electronic studio mode, and two with live interactive electronics.

The works are generally oriented towards pitched timbral spectrums (as opposed to noise-based timbres) of fascinating novelty and high levels of musical interest--and show off in this way a kind of continuity with the classic American School of electronics made most famous at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Studios at the peak of the High Modern Era--especially in the '60s.  

Each of the eight works on Volume Two weaves its own magic, and each has a nicely constructed complexity and timbral brilliance that marks it out in the listening mind as more than memorable, special, each a little milestone of Modernist tone painting.

There are also few poignant interactions between conventional instruments and their live electronic transformations, such as Carl Bettendorf's 2012 viola and electronics "Souvenir."

The remainder are for electronics in a studio compositional context and they cover a period from 1995 through 2017. A lengthy description of each is probably not necessary. Suffice to say that they are some of the most interesting works I have heard in recent years. 

You may not know the composers but you no doubt should by listening closely to this entire volume. Hats off to Arthur Kreiger, Joel Gressel, Adam Vidiksis, Maurice Wright, Carl Bettendorf, Jeffrey Hall, Samuel Wells and Hubert Howe.

The judicial selection of worthy recent works by artists we might not otherwise come to know forms a tribute to the discernment of the APNM and its trustees. This is an essential anthology of the New Music Moderns currently coming up today. If it is any indication, and it no doubt is, we are most assuredly not lacking talented new voices to take us into the future. Highly recommended.

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