Canadian composer Ann Southam, who passed away in 2010 (Alex Ross and Tamara Bernstein eulogize her here), wrote in a number of genres. But her solo piano works are particularly distinctive. Written in 1986, Soundings for a New Piano is an evocative title. One can imagine many a contemporary composer doing similarly when confronted with a “fresh instrument:” trying out various post-tonal harmonies, arpeggiating them to test the piano’s tone, tuning, and voicing propensities.
As William Robin points out in his astute liner notes, Southam combines the minimal repetition of ascending and descending arpeggiations with a harmonic tendency characteristic in her later music: a single twelve tone row that she morphed into various guises throughout multiple works. Combining the regular rhythms of post-minimalism with a row that contains consonances leavened and savored, rather than eradicated, by widely spaced dissonances, Southam creates a polystylistic world that is singular, self-contained, and often quite lushly attired.
Pianist R. Andrew Lee is a sensitive interpreter who recognizes the detailed and delicate character of Soundings. He uses pedaling in an impressionist manner, with delicate blurring around the edges of the omnipresent verticals, to further give these harmonies an organic and interconnected ambience. At twenty-three minutes, Soundings doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, it may well whet the listener’s appetite for some of her more extended compositional excursions: Recommended.
A sampler’s paradise and a vivid musical time capsule, Lixiviation is a compilation of analog synth guru Suzanne Ciani’s commercial work, as well as studio and live excerpts, from 1969-1985. It includes numerous clips for Atari, TV commercial spots (with clients ranging from Coca-Cola to PBS), a clip from a live concert using Buchla gear in 1975, and excerpts from her contributions to film scores (including the title track, a collaboration with mercury sculptor Ronald Mallory).
The versatility of projects represented is matched by versatility of sonic approaches. Indeed, it’s interesting to hear such a wide chronological swath of the synthesist’s work. A decade and a half, particularly in these relatively early days of the development of synthesizer technology, encompasses multiple generations of gear; as well as, for Ciani, a significant evolution of aesthetic orientation and artistic approach. The general move is from a more ambient, slowly evolving, and improvisatory approach to leaner, tauter structures (as befits working within the constraints of corporate project time frames). The CD makes apparent the debt owed to Ciani by new age, bleep, glitch, sci-fi scores, ambient electronica, and those spearheading today’s analog synth revival.
A (small) caveat: Lixiviation is not curated from a chronological vantage point: its tracks are arranged somewhat more whimsically, perhaps to demonstrate the diversity of approaches adopted by Ciani. Nor are all the tracks precisely dated in the liner notes. Those looking for more a accurate provenance for some of the music will have to do a bit of web sleuthing (in the name of pop musicology) on their own.
New Jersey’s own Seth Haley records electronica under the moniker Com Truise. With a name that tropes on an eighties icon, it’s not too surprising that his source material reference dystopian sci-fi soundtracks, early synth pop, and a splash of trippy dark wave for good measure. Now, I know that, at this point, some readers might be warily edging their mitts towards the mouse. After all, this referential material is potent stuff to overuse: weaponized in the hands of the wrong creator. Fear not.
Thankfully, Haley keeps the various reference points in balance on Galactic Melt, his latest full length for the Ghostly imprint. Unlike the film actor whose name just might be morphed into Haley’s audio incarnation, Galactic Melt doesn’t seem overexposed. Haley provides enough thoughtfully mediated distance between the source material and its current day handling that the music (happily) never lapses into nostalgia nor stoops to broad parody. Recommended.
Check out a stream of the new single “Ether Drift” on the File Under ?Tumblr page.
Plus, courtesy of our friends at RCRDLBL, grab a download of album track “Brokendate” below.