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.

Sounds Heard: Dmitri Tymoczko—Beat Therapy

Dmitri Tymoczko’s recently published book, A Geometry of Music: Harmony and Counterpoint in the Extended Common Practice, is a fascinating attempt at a generalized music theory and is a synthesis of an extremely broad range of music which is at the same time extremely heady and a joy to read. So it should probably come as no surprise that Beat Therapy, a new disc of Tymoczko’s own compositions, is equally far reaching yet utterly entertaining.

Sounds Heard: Music of Arlene Sierra, Volume 1

Composer Arlene Sierra is the closest thing to a “musical entomologist” that we will probably find in the world of contemporary music. The first word that comes to my mind when listening to her music is “spin,” and the accompanying visual is that of a spider weaving an intricate web with speed and dexterity, into which a myriad of other tiny creatures unsuspectingly wind themselves up.

Sounds Heard: Harley Gaber—In Memoriam 2010

Harley Gaber left this world just as a recording of his In Memoriam 2010 was making its public way out into it. Only a few weeks after the release of this beautiful and sometimes terrifying album, Gaber’s friend and colleague at the Innova label, Philip Blackburn, passed on the news of Gaber’s suicide. It is in a way a difficult thing to dig into this new piece and the deeper catalog of work now archived on Gaber’s website knowing that the creator is gone, but of course this is also the way to celebrate the work he left us.

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