Innova Rec. NOISE plays Burtner (US,2013)**** -music by Matthew Burtner-
This concept surprised me for its starting point, its focus and motivation and exploitation for a chamber music use of noise, with the investigation and usage of different forms of noise into new music compositions. I must say that I am not at all a fan of the genre Noise, which exists too, a genre which for me still is exactly what it is : noise, but before putting you off, just let me tell you : this is nothing like it. The element of noise is already known and has been used before in contemporary classical music & new music, like I have noticed before in scores with not only white noise, but also differently coloured noise, like you can find it on the scores from Stockhausen (-just check also the liner notes of the 1972 debut from one of his occasional pupils, Klaus Schulze, who mentions different forms of filtered noise on “Irrlicht”).
NOISE is also one of the projects and ensembles with which Matthew Burtner is a long time cooperator. This ensemble is specialised in performing experimental scores with complex notations. Here, the ensemble, also with Matthew Burtner participating (on sax), composed / prepared / performed a full album of chamber music in which they used as starting points different perspectives of noise that were used before in Burtner's music. One of the forms of noise are the click tracks in computer generated music, something which I thought to hear in the track “(dis)Sensus – Dissensus” but where the liner notes say it was used as a foundation for new relationships in the track “Polyrhythmicana”, a piece dedicated to Henry Cowell's “Rhythmicana”, an investigation in deep rhythm. Each instrument is wrapped in aluminium foil for an extra acoustic noise. In “Snowprints”, this could refer to white noise, which is generally when taken out of its own is called “snow”, but instead it used more directly a combination of the environmental noise of instruments, in combination with the soft white noise sounds of snow (the real snow!), when being confronted with changes by wind, temperature and time changes. “(Dis)Sensus”, the liner notes say, is about the “noise explored in the politics of interaction within the dynamic closed system of the ensemble”.
Even though one could expect pieces that are merely entirely based upon the different forms of noise, the Ensemble more incorporates noise into chamber music, which is something else. In new music you could still expect a composer to prepare ideas that are played and sometimes interpreted by an ensemble, more and more in modern music, the composer began to have different roles of participation, from director to inspirer. Some mind needs to prepare the right distinguished elements, other forms of organisation are allowed to form its results with it too. Every level of participation has developed a sophistication in its own processing of ideas and practice. For the album, the ensemble merely used certain forms of noise in combination with poly-rhythms and via I guess partial improvisation, the result remains hanging in between chamber music, improvisational music, and also, sound sensitive exploration.
On the first part of “Polyrhythmicana”, the noise of aluminium foil interferes drastically with the rhythms on the cello. This is combined with monotone variations of tonal rhythms on cello, guitar and bell, while flute improvises most freely, driven by intonation. On the second part, the emphasis lies on the fast wood-percussion, combined with mono-rhythms on cello or double bass and flute, with theatrical accents provided by flute/bass drum. The third part focuses more on the irregularities in monotone overlapping rhythms of metal block, flute and wooden resonance box with tin foil resonating. On the fourth part different irregularities are explored in a slower mode, played by guitar with foil and flute and cello in close harmony, slowly changing tone, in a rhythm that has a hammered part and slowing down rhythm, like a stick falling down, while the cello and flute and in the end the guitar still play a few variations on top that makes the investigation complete. The last part shows the orchestra without any noise (cello, glockenspiel, flute, percussion), playing a harmonious chamber music version of that what happened before, with its descending rhythms, little variations, and small irregularities of change during its evolution, giving the impression of speeding up a bit and intermingling each layer like in an interaction of waves.
“Snowprints”, as announced before, will have a subtle foundation of soft green white noise evolving over time, while the chamber orchestra listens and finds certain wave harmonies and a slow rhythm in it. This sounds very natural and has its own descriptive beauty, with accents of contemporary piano with flute. The piece has different parts where cello / flute / piano improvise further with different forms of a chamber-music outcome. Near the end the chamber-music ensemble, which became to form a unity sounds like the hanging on a clothesline in the wind, peeping rhythmically too, or like a metal door in the wind, while the softer noise remains equally audible, like two focuses in space, like an object and the surrounding grass or in this case, snow and with the elements playing in it.
“(dis)Sensus” starts from the sound of writing on a carton box/loose plate, mixed with clicks from digital errors. These last rhythms and its variations are used for a chamber music piece based upon peeping and violin overtones sounds, at first, then are used for an improvisation with sax, violin and piano improvisations, freely, unattached and more like open minded jazz music mixed with contemporary classical music.
- The approach is still very different, but it still is interesting to compare this idea with another use of digital clicks with chamber orchestra that can be heard on Efterklang's earliest album, their masterpiece “Tripper” (2004), which is made in a chamber-like modern progressive pop style.-
During the different variations and parts, more polyrhythms are tried out ; -the ensemble feels free and just are “themselves”. Also drumming is used for the rhythmical foundation. Thoroughly the piece forms a stronger theatrical expression. This is confirmed with additional instruments that come to it (police whistle, drums, peeping toy, toy flute).
An interesting album, where you can easily come back to and discover more in it in different details.
To comprehend the album even better, it helps to know the three main engagements of Burtner musical interests, which are embodiment, ecoacoustics and polyrhythm in chamber music. The interest in Noise-systems could eventually be added to this list as a fourth interest. Important for some of these interests and for the sense of hearing things differently is that he was born in Alaska. In the midst of silent nature pools, Burtner learned to listen to environments and realised the interactions that were happening or possible in/with it. Each sort of interaction needs a way of listening, needs a disciplined understanding and empathy for all that is available, for what can be worked with, without disturbing the balance.
People who read my review pages before, might have heard before of one of Butner’s other projects, the NOMADS (Network-Object Mobile-Agent Dynamic System), which is a telematic system (a tool for interaction across remote or local networks) and more specifically about the MICE project or the human-computer ensemble and orchestra (two MICE-related reviews you can find here). As a technologist he has developed systems for human-computer-environment interaction.
Musical Ecoacoustics embeds environmental systems into musical and performance structures using new technologies. Abstracted environmental processes are seen from a musical vision and are given feedback. Not only sounds (audio) can be received and re-organised, but also other measurable parameters. There are hundreds of perceptions available and working upon our senses (temperature, interaction with the elements etc. ) that now are better included for a more thorough interaction on a sonic level. It is there where the first realisation came from the importance of the participation of noise. I can say about this that noise defines the object. Where waves define the abstract core, noise brings us to a confrontation with the real environment, the colours and its direct interaction.
The idea of Embodiment goes deeper into the physical experiences in certain environments, using interfaces with sensors to enhance that connection. Such models can be used in a theatrical and visualisation context to make the sensibility in the audience better prepared and the experience itself more complete.
One of the instruments that was invented for his purposes was the Metasaxophone, an acoustic tenor saxophone retrofitted with an on-board computer microprocessor, and an array of sensors that convert performance data into independent continuous control messages for a computer. In combination with a unique microphone system, each amplified sound can be controlled as well. This enhanced instrument was explored on a different CD on the label, called “Metasaxophone Colossus” (2004) which will be reviewed on a different page soon.
I also hope that one day one of his more theatrical/operatic pieces will be released on CD/DVD.
Another review I did from a DVD from Matthew Burtner you can find on