Music With Computer

The last two nights, Shirley and I attended the concert portions of the 19th Annual Ussachevsky Memorial Festival at Pomona College. We’ve now attended four or fine of these events. They are always, will, abnormal. Over the two nights, we heard, and in a few cases also watched, eleven pieces of which four where premiere performances. The event features electronic music that, in the case of these concerts, largely involved more or less standard instruments interacting in some way or other with computer generated effects.
For example, the Mojave Trio performed Tom Flaherty’s premier of “Looking for Answers” with Genevieve Feiwen Lee on the piano, Sara Parkins on the violin and Maggie Parkins doubling on the cello and computer. For old fogies like us, this was perhaps the most enjoyable piece preformed. It was relatively up beat and had a wonderful symphonic quality. The interplay between the interments and the complex, mostly (totally?) prerecorded, track performed by the computer was exciting.
The keynote of the concert was the work of Austrian composer Karlheinz Essl. He and his computer supported a cellist, a pianist, a toy pianist, and a kalimbaist in four pieces form his Sequitur series. If you are wondering, it was an electric kalimba. Essl also preformed his Sequitur VII (2008) for electric guitar and computer himself.
Perhaps the most endearing performance involved soprano Gwendolyn Lytle, cellist Tom Flaherty and Chakisapa the robot. This was a charming number with the Flaherty and Lytle vying for Chakisapa’s attention as he danced back and forth between them. By the way, the program listed Flaherty’s wife, Cynthia Fogg, as violist for this piece. Because she was ill, Flaherty and his cello set in for her.
With the exception of Essl’s Sequitur VII, all of the pieces I’ve mentioned so far were quite upbeat, a few even arousing. But, like much “new music,” many of the other pieces were downers. In the case of the premiere of MaryClare Brzytwa’s “For Caeli,” the flautist (or is it flutist?), Rachel Rudich, screamed just as I was about to. Now I understand that music is not about making me feel good. But is it really necessary that so much of it is depressing?