Sounds Heard: PRISM Quartet—Dedication

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the PRISM Quartet issued a call to more than 20 composers, asking them to write short works to mark this milestone. The majority of these micro-compositions last between one and two minutes, each providing a fascinating window into its composer’s unique approach to the ensemble.

Sounds Heard: Michael Torke—Tahiti

Tahiti is the latest recording released by Michael Torke’s Ecstatic Records, the label he founded in 2003 in order to release his new material and to distribute his older recordings. The current trend of self-publishing/recording composers was still a fairly new and rarely implemented concept in 2003, and the number of established composers leaving the safety of traditional models to set out on their own was virtually non-existent.

Sounds Heard: Line Upon Line Percussion

This past May, NewMusicBox contributor Andrew Sigler and I each covered Austin, Texas’s “Fast Forward Austin” festival, and those looking for an audio snapshot of that city’s emerging new music scene would do well to give Line Upon Line Percussion’s new album a listen. This trio of percussionists—Adam Bedell, Cullen Faulk, and Matthew Tedori—formed at the University of Texas at Austin in 2009, and the four composers whose works are featured on the album are all Austin-based as well.

Sounds Heard: John Aylward—Stillness and Change

Stillness and Change contains four of John Aylward’s chamber works, all of which were composed within the last three years. It is an excellent snapshot of where Aylward currently is as a composer, an activity he is engaged in in addition to being an accomplished concert pianist and a formidable music theorist, plus the artistic director of the modular East Coast Contemporary Ensemble as well as the Etchings Festival.

Sounds Heard: Keeril Makan—Target

Composer Keeril Makan’s new CD Target gives the ears a workout with timbral complexity drawn from a remarkably spare amount of material that sneaks up and delivers a whollop of powerful emotional content.

Sounds Heard: Seven Storey Mountain II

The second piece of Nate Wooley’s planned seven-part Seven Storey Mountain cycle dropped on Important records last week. It is a haunting, often aggressive sound world that moves from a place of chilled droning into a pummeling chaos, before returning to a stressed restraint reminiscent of the work’s opening moments. After listening to the work, all I wanted to do was have a conversation with him about the music that was ultimately created. Luckily for me, he was game for a little Q&A.

Sounds Heard: William Schuman—A Free Song, Finally!

The mind boggles that it has taken nearly 70 years—and a year after the William Schuman centenary in 2010—for there to be a commercially available recording of Schuman’s A Free Song, the first composition to win the Pulitzer Prize in Music back in 1943. Yet this summer has seen the release of not one, but two “world premiere recordings” of A Free Song, both from groups based in Illinois.

Sounds Heard: Ecosono—Agents Against Agency

The artist collective called Ecosono is devoted to melding experimental sound art and environmental preservation, in an effort to highlight ecological awareness through innovative musical creations. Their new DVD, Agents Against Agency, documents nine multimedia projects exploring the interconnections between musical expression in dialog with the surrounding environment, both natural and manmade.

Sounds Heard: ensemble et, al.—When the Tape Runs Out

A collection of five short tracks adding up to just 20 minutes of music, this EP feels like more of an amuse-bouche than an image of the ensemble’s full reach, but the character of the music is enchanting enough to make it an attractive listen. Each piece rings out as if the lid has been lifted up on a new music box, the lines mixing vibraphone, marimba, and glockenspiel with percussive sounds made using less traditional wood, metal, and glass objects. With these raw materials, the ensemble employs a musical vocabulary just quirky and mysterious enough that it would comfortably fit into the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

Sounds Heard: Christopher Shultis—Devisadero

Although Chris Shultis’s career as a musician and scholar has been long and multifaceted, his colleague Richard Hermann pointed out to me that he is, in a sense, a young composer: It was not until the late 1980s that Shultis (b. 1957), initially a percussionist, began to write music full-time.

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