Thursday, November 11, 2010

George Lewis & Marina Rosenfeld's "Sour Mash:" Modern Electronic Music

We have come quite a distance from the early days of electronic music and musique concrete. In the early fifties, unless you were working on the mainframe computers programmed for synthesized sound, you had a couple of mono tape recorders, an oscillator or two, a microphone to sample sounds and a splicing block where the composer painstakingly and slowly assembled a work from the bits and pieces of magnetic tape he or she had created.

The personal computer, sequencers, MIDI and all the rest have revolutionized electronic music, and of course the innovations that seemed so startling back in 1958 have been readily absorbed into modern day pop, rock and hip-hop music.

Thankfully though there is still vitally creative composition happening in the electronic field.

With that in mind we turn to a recent release of a composite electronic work by Marina Rosenfield and George Lewis, Sour Mash (Innova 228). This is a collaborative effort by the two. Marina is a sound artist of growing reputation; George made his name originally as a trombonist in the avant improvisational area, one of the most important trombonists of his generation, and has increasingly turned to electronics.

Sour Mash consists of one short and one longer construction by each composer. The pieces are then combined together in a second, double version. Sour Mash is being made available as an LP and as a CD. Marina and George think of the recorded result as something open-ended. For example, turntablists are welcome to work with the music and remix it in whatever way they see fit.

There are processed sounds and electronic sounds in the works. The sound events tend to flow more than punctuate. They are noise and tone soundscapes, as it were. I have listened a fair number of times to the music and I must say that I found myself only gradually entering the insular sound world at hand. The first few listens left a rather neutral impression, then I began to grasp what was happening. The music doesn't so much articulate memorable motifs as it creates an ambiance. I find it a fascinating listen.

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