Sounds Heard: Flutronix
Flutronix: Brown Squares
Natalie Joachim (flute, voice, electronics)
Allison Loggins-Hull (flute, electronics)
Aesthetic symbiosis has been extremely rare in so-called contemporary classical music. The early electronic music classics of Luening and Ussachevsky or the earlier musique concrète symphony by two Pierres—Schaeffer and Henry—on the other side of the Atlantic are rare examples of compositions lacking a single all-powerful auteur. The experimentation of early electronic music almost incentivized multiple explorers to join the same expedition. And to this day, electronic music seems a more welcoming realm for works by multiple creators. Even such fascinating more recently co-composed pieces as Lost Objects, by the three founders of Bang on a Can, have many nerdy contemporary music aficionados pondering which movement is by David, and which by Michael or Julia.
Part of the difficulty in making an effective work for performance in a concert hall with more than one creator is that a big part of the classical gestalt, a holdover from 19th-century romanticism, is for every composer to have a unique and identifiable compositional voice. This somewhat anachronistic mindset has caused the history of earlier music to be viewed through a prism that isn’t always appropriate or accurate and has had a lasting impact on the way music continues to be written. Of course, the historical trajectories of jazz, rock, soul, hip-hop, and numerous other contemporary music genres have offered an alternative approach now for nearly a century, one in which several individuals can make integral contributions to still unified and viable musical artifacts, whether live performances or studio recordings.
All of which is to preface some ruminations about Flutronix, the eponymous release of a pair of classically trained flutists—Nathalie Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull—who perform their own post-minimalist and techno-influenced compositions for flutes and electronics. While only one of the nine compositions featured on their debut recording is a co-composition—the compositional duties on the other eight tracks are equally divided between them and several of the tracks are performed by only one of them—there is a consistency of voice that makes it a challenge and perhaps an irrelevancy to know who was responsible for what without sneaking a look at the CD’s booklet notes. One might posit that Nathalie Joachim’s pieces, two of which feature her vocals as well, are coming more from the realm of pop music whereas Allison Loggins-Hull’s contributions are more within the audible parameters of post-classical music. But that’s a dichotomy that has already been all but shattered for a generation, and the shards of genre distinction that are still perceptible dissolve upon multiple listenings to this album.
If the opening of Nathalie Joachim’s Crazy—with its throbbing electronic assault against lilting flute lines—feels akin to a remixed Vermont Counterpoint, the freneticism abruptly morphs into something far more serene in the final minute. Joachim’s Stay Close calls to mind the euphoric early music of another minimalist pioneer, Philip Glass, particularly his music for the documentary film Mark Di Suvero, Sculptor which in the 1970s was one of the first examples of a true musical crossover when the soundtrack was released as North Star by a rock label, Virgin Records, and attracted a whole new audience.
Allison Loggins-Hull’s Run On begins with a more assaultive Bang on a Can-brand minimalism, proving that flutes can be as aggressive as the digital bleeps that pulsate along with them. Wander by Joachim is the first of the two “songs” on the album, both of which are performed exclusively by her multi-tracking her voice, flute, and electronics. The word songs has the scare quotes because as soon as you are lulled into thinking that what you are listening to is in fact a song, the voice drops out and the music transforms into an instrumental soundscape. Plus Wander (which clocks in at 5’30″) and the album’s other “song”—Aware (which is over seven minutes)—are actually the two longest tracks on the album. Bit of Everything is Loggins-Hull’s turn to perform exclusively on her own in a virtuosic flight that has the same ecstatic energy, though not really the sound, of Hindustani thumris. Loggins-Hull’s subsequent and more mysterious Pray, also for her alone, gets into even trippier terrain along the lines of Aphex Twin’s late ’90s ambient forays, melding those textures with some more vintage Glass arpeggios.
The electronic sounds are completely gone on Loggins-Hull’s Stacked though electronics are necessary to loop and stack the sounds of Joachim and Loggins-Hull’s two flutes into a dense wall of multiple interweaving flute lines. It would be really wonderful to hear this live with a whole bunch of flutists scattered across a room. Joachim’s voice returns in Aware which introduces even more syncopation into the accompanying electronic beats, adding greater drive to the non-electronic material. But in the final Brown Squares, the only one of the tracks that is jointly composed, the flutes and electronically generated timbres feel more completely integrated than on any of the other tracks herein.
All in all, the nine tracks on Flutronix’s recorded debut make a strong case for a post-stylistic, post all-powerful-single-auteur-driven music, one that allows multiple voices to share in the shaping of a music that is equally indebted to and comfortable in several musical lineages. It would be even more fascinating, at least for me, to hear what would happen if and when Joachim and Loggins-Hull created a lengthier jointly composed work that dispensed with stand-alone sections created by them individually. Might such a creation lead to an even greater synthesis of the various elements they decidedly have a keen interest and aptitude for amalgamating herein?