Barton McLean
Soundworlds
Innova CD 234

Barton McLean’s latest release finds the composer/pianist/electronic musician presenting works that draw upon a variety of inspirations. These range from local to more exotic geographies, from field recordings to laboriously crafted computer sounds from customized software, and from live performances to overdubbed studio-wrought virtual ensembles. What brings these seemingly disparate works together is McLean’s distinctive ear for timbre, and his delight in creating various sonic echoes and digitized instrumental doppelgangers.

The earliest completed piece, 1989′s Demons of the Night, explores the darker side of a summer evening in rural New York. Various dark denizens, real or imagined (we can’t be sure!), are evoked by cackling saxophone and agitated synthesized glissandi.

On Concerto: States of Beingg (2009), McLean serves as piano soloist while the “Petersburgh Electrophilharmonica” provides a virtual accompaniment. The three movements – “Wonder,” “Attainment,” and “Tranquility” – each evoke a different stage of life or state of mind. The solo part is fluidly rendered and, given the subject matter, suitably wide ranging. The accompanying timbres are equally multifaceted in makeup, but generally favor echoing reverberations that trail the piano’s attacks and bell-like sonorities. Magic at Xanadu is a showcase for McLean’s electroacoustic prowess, particularly his facility with MAX/MSP (from which the work takes its title). Its blending of more atmospheric timbres with ostinatos crafts a work of variegated texture and intriguingly intricate formal design. More exploratory still is the live electronics piece Ice Canyons, which blends ephemeral wisps of melody with string pads and ambiguous harmonies blurred with glissandos.

More acoustically based is Ritual of the Dawn, a chamber sextet for the Syracuse Society of New Music. It is a contemplative millennial work that features shimmering pitched percussion, insistent gongs, McLean’s virtuosic pianism, and soaring wind duets. It captures both the nervous excitement and reflective moments that can take hold of us, sometimes in quick succession, at times of significant change. Finally, Rainforest Images II makes successful use of field recordings and natural sounds in a sound installation; a genre that is often rife with cliche is here given considerable compositional focus. Thus, the CD presents many facets of McLean without ever diluting the impression of a composer with keenly refined vision.

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