Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Alvin Curran, "Electric Rags II" with the Rova Saxophone Quartet, 1990

Alvin Curran composes music that confounds and conflates genre-al expectations. Most of what he does has improvisational aspects, but also vivid aural sound painting and new music qualities. He is unique. I found his Electric Rags II (New Albion 027) a few years ago used and am now finally getting to a more intense series of listens. It features the Rova Saxophone Quartet along with Alvin Curran's templates for live electronic and electro-acoustic elements.

It is not music for pigeonholing. There are pre-arranged melodic events adroitly handled by the quartet, there is improvisational avantness, and there are sound colors and electronic transformations of various sorts as well. As is often the case with Curran, the sequence of music has a strongly narrative quality without there necessarily being a textual equivalent.

The electronics were derived from a special program that allows Curran to transform the sax quartet sound at any time. The notation for the quartet is sometimes standard, sometimes aleatoric (involving choice and chance on the part of the performers). Each of them is able to pilot one or more MIDI controllers that react to the sax utterences in variable ways. Plus the sections are to be performed in a random order. In the end there will be a different version every time the work is performed.

It's one of those Curran works that you must hear at least several times to absorb. And it is another good example of how Curran and the Rova Quartet make music of enduring vitality and impact. You can no doubt find this on the internet if you look for it. It may be out of print but it's worth finding! Like a Zen rock garden, the music has a plasticity that may bring you to another place in how you view your world. That depends on how you listen I suppose.

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