Classical CD Reviews

ANDREW MAY: ‘Imaginary Friends’ = Shimmer; Chant/Songe; Retake; Ripped-Up Maps; The Twittering Machine; Wandering Through the Same Dream; Vanishing – Andrew May, electronics/various soloists – Ravello Records

Interesting pieces that spark the imagination.

Published on January 16, 2013

ANDREW MAY: ‘Imaginary Friends’ = Shimmer; Chant/Songe; Retake; Ripped-Up Maps; The Twittering Machine; Wandering Through the Same Dream; Vanishing – Andrew May, electronics/various soloists – Ravello Records

ANDREW MAY: ‘Imaginary Friends’ = Shimmer; Chant/Songe; Retake; Ripped-Up Maps; The Twittering Machine; Wandering Through the Same Dream; Vanishing – Andrew May, electronics/various soloists – Ravello Records RR7861, 74:13 [10/30/12] (Distr. by Naxos) ****:

There has been a resurgence of composers writing for electronics and live instruments, and frequently, interactively. This music does not in any way sound like the heavily synthesized tape works and creations of the late 60s and 70s. Sound sampling software and the evolution of the computer into a very powerful and very portable tool have made so many things possible since the days of Robert Moog.

One of the more interesting people writing for this medium is, indeed, Andrew May. As stated on his website, May is best known for his pioneering instrumental works with live interactive computer systems, and has created numerous tools for statistical tracking and modeling of musical behaviors. Most of his works, however, are purely acoustic, exploring parallel issues of performance, communication, notation, and interaction. May’s music has been performed in more than a dozen European and Asian countries and throughout the United States. May joined the composition faculty of the University of North Texas College of Music in 2005, and serves as the Director of UNT’s Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia (CEMI). Also a violinist, improviser, and conductor specializing in adventurous new music and avant-garde improvisation, May has performed in Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland and across the United States, and has been recorded on CRI. He co-directs the contemporary music series, Atomic Clock Music Events and assists in the Sounds Modern series.

This CD is a very interesting collection of small works written for electronics and solo performers; except for Wandering Through the Same Dream, a clarinet duo, and Vanishing for ensemble and computer. I found the resultant sounds very enjoyable to listen to and the moods created range from clever fun to very atmospheric and mysterious. All performers in this collection are very fine and clearly dedicated to music of this type. Some of them, most notably clarinetist F. Gerard Errante, are well known as contemporary specialists on their instrument.

In fact, I found Chant/Songe for clarinet and computer to be one of the stronger works in this collection.  This is a very nice work with some intriguing interplay between the clarinet and computer generated percussion effects, echoey bird like effects and various timbres that defy description. The blending is nearly seamless and the effect is very good.

I was also really taken by Ripped-Up Maps for a solo instrument – in this case, a five-string electric violin played by May – and computer. This is another excellent piece that relies on performer improvisation a great deal. In fact, the score is mostly a series of performance directions for the four “states” of the work. The performer must interpret the directions as carefully as possible but each performance will vary due to the instrument and the performer’s interpretation. (For example, directions include “play lots of fast notes; shift registers often…” and so forth)

The biggest work here that, predictably, offers the greatest timbral variety throughout is Vanishing for chamber ensemble and computer. What makes Vanishing all the more interesting is that there are voice samples (in this case, soprano Jennifer Cobb) after a text by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The work is dedicated to the memory of electronic music pioneer Mel Powell. This is a complex work that requires a conductor. The connections between the electronics and the live acoustical performers are precisely notated in the score. Speaking of the score, my compliments to Andrew May for his amazing website, where you can hear samples, print scores, download the interactive software and the files needed to perform his works. As a performer, I am ready to try some things!

All the works on this disc are very interesting and, I thought, highly enjoyable. Like all music of this type, you are familiar and a fan of the genre or not. Even those who are complete novices to music like this ought to find some sounds to be intrigued by. I think Andrew May is a young composer to follow. His “Imaginary Friends” ought to soon turn into many fans.

—Daniel Coombs




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