Mutable CD 17533-2
Composer and electronic musician Tom Hamilton has been active for over forty years. Beginning his investigations with early analog synthesizers, he’s continued to explore the parameters of technology with instruments of his own devising. Developed during a residency in Italy in 2005, Hamilton’s “electronic harmony generator” is now his synth of choice. He deploys it in a mixed chamber setting on Local Customs, an album-length five-movement work.
Hamilton has appeared on more than sixty recordings, becoming primarily associated with Downtown, rather than Uptown, circles. But his music isn’t so easily pegged. Whereas much minimal electronica tends to limit the pitch palette, avoiding overt atonality in favor of an extended triadic vocabulary, Local Customs allows for a wide range of harmony. This includes Webernian pointillism as well as triadic synth pads and overlapping modal wind ostinati.
On “Corral,” points of stillness and tart intervals set against triadic underpinnings give one the sense of a slightly filled-in Morton Feldman. There are places, especially in the third movement, “Counterpoint Four,” where the gradual evolutions sound like Steve Reich’s phase patterns in slow motion. Noteworthy here are the low-register members of the ensemble, trombonist James Martin and bassist Terry Kippenburger, who keep up lithely with their wind section counterparts.
The final movement, “All the Mapping Shifted,” imbues the proceedings with a belated urgency; percussion interjects, while angst-filled intervals are articulated in the clarinet and flute. Disjunct melodies are given to each instrument in turn, while Hamilton’s generator provides a subliminal, yet oddly insistent, harmonic background. Local Customs is all the more interesting for its unusual place in the contemporary classical universe, bridging a range of playing manners and stylistic conventions to make a singular, satisfying, hybridized music.