The afternoon concert on Wednesday, August 30, was one of the most traditional at ICMC 2000, observing both classical compositional and classical concert traditions. It was thus appropriately presented in St. Matthaus-Kirche. Unlike many of the marathon concerts common to the ICMC (a ritual I rather enjoy), this one presented a more manageable shape - three solid compositions, each content within its own compositional cosmology.
David Berezon's 'Unheard Voices, Ancient Space', although for purely electronic playback, was the most compositionally traditional, with classical phrase structures, and sounds and musical behaviors clearly of classical origin, (flutes, cello, glissando string textures). The ubiquitous classical diatonic structure was present here in Lydian harmonies and tonal melodic patterns. The treatment of the cello sounds in 'concerto' mode established beyond any doubt the importance of classical compositional techniques as a reference. Also prominent were outdoor environmental sounds. In a treatment appropriate to these 'natural' sounds, parts of the composition evolved in the mode of soundscape (where we are invited to enjoy recognizable sounds for what they are, more than for what the composer does to them). The coexistence of the two materials and approaches might suggest a re-contextualization of the classical materials, but in the end the electronic recording rubric absorbed and validated all elements regardless of context. Whether intentionally or not, this work underlined the ambiguous nature of our current electro-acoustic aesthetic.
Gordon Monro's 'The Voice of the Phoenix' composed for bass flute and electronic sound was performed expertly by Beate-Gabriela Schmitt on contrabass flute, an instrument which is a treat for both the ear and eye, with its triangulate physical structure. Indeed the sound of the contrabass flute was consistently more compelling than that of the electronic sound which was clearly intended for a supporting role, only making a grab for the limelight in a short rhythmic coda. This was a refreshing reversal from the more customary situation in which, compared to the electronic sound, the instrumental part is at a hopeless timbral disadvantage, not from insufficient complexity, but rather from over-familiarity, a disadvantage which is often highlighted by the physical drama of performance. The actual content of the flute part was well within the canon of modern instrumental writing. The main surprise was the rapidity and precision of Ms. Schmitt's performance on such a seemingly unwieldy and intimidating instrument. Timbral restraint in the electronic part rewarded the composer with a seamless integration between instrumental and electronic sound which is rare in the problematic acoustic/electronic combination.
The concert concluded with Francis Dhomont's 'Phonurgie'. The traditions emphasized in this work are not the instrumental tropes of the first two works, but rather the equally familiar sounds and gestures of electro-acoustic music, and pre-computer music in particular. The listener was constantly tantalized with identifiable but artistically modified sounds: gongs, voices, clapping. Also present were familiar electronic sounds and gestures - granular sounds, comb filtered sounds, sudden crescendi, long textured drones, and careful attention to spatial placement as a dramatic element. (The work was spatially diffused by the composer.) There also appeared chords highly characteristic of (and perhaps quoted from) Dhomont's 'Novars'. Also in contrast to the first two works was the sense of a powerful compositional personality articulated forcefully through the sounds (and this too is a classical tradition which is abandoned in most of the music heard at the ICMC (you could start the list with Cage/Hiller's HPSCHD), and in much other contemporary non-popular music as well). 'Phonurgie' gave the impression of an over-abundant flow of ideas, regretfully and perhaps somewhat arbitrarily terminated at the end of the piece. The work is less about process or structure than deployment. Like a magician with endless rabbits to pull out of a hat, Dhomont works with a bottomless collection of sounds, delighting us with his tricks and promising more for the next time.