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Contemporary Music Review Print

Festival on the Hill - C.H.A.T. Student Concert

February 18, 2010 - Chapel Hill, NC:

The Department of Music of UNC – Chapel Hill hosted a fine presentation of student works for digital media as part of the C.H.A.T. Festival of Digital Arts and Humanities at Person Hall, with ten pieces by eight composers from UNC and elsewhere, including the University of Oregon, Northern Illinois University, and the University of Buffalo.

First up was "Ewha, Nabi" by Simon Hutchinson, which combined altered vocal and Japanese (?) string sounds. I was challenged to discover the correspondence between the piece and the text given in the program note. The work began with a loud boom, the compositional equivalent of shouting into the ear of someone you have just met (you wouldn’t pay much attention to the speaker’s message after that – you would simply try to get away), and this was certainly not the most rewarding piece for the evening.

More effective, and very well-received by the audience, was a work for double bass and controller (Alex van Gils, performer and composer in "presence," in which the gestures of the bow arm controlled the transformations of the bass sound). I had my doubts about the pitch content. If it was meant to be outside the Western system, the intentionality was not clear enough to dissuade this listener that it was simply out of tune.

More clearly structured was "Opening/Unknowing" by Nathan Edwards, which opened with a repeated beep, passed through various transformations, and then somewhat gratuitously returned to the opening material, telling the listener that the end was approaching. The problem of making a conclusion in electronic and non-tonal works is always difficult, but this solution was a little too obvious.

Too loud and too clearly manipulative was the setting of grisly material from the "Bakkhai" by Ted Gellar-Goad, melodramatic in both the literal (speaking voice, accompanied by musical material) and the pejorative sense (over the top, embarrassingly kitschy). Ouch!

Witty, charming, far more musical, and blessedly brief was "Twizzle Twizzle" by Michael Stipe, in which each musical component of a combination of repeated rhythms was represented visually on screen.

After a brief intermission to reset the stage, we had the decidedly unattractive and overlong "Sensed Presence" by Jacob Gotlib. My score for the work: rattly-thumpy- >>>> too loud>>>loud hum>>>breathing>>>mechanical noises:::clank-clank-clank-bang-bang. Expression marking: tediously.

Redeeming the second half were two works by Benjamin Crouch ("Untitled" and "Work Liberates"), the first for saxophone and tape, with relatively consonant materials and delay effectively used for the saxophone (played by the composer), the second for tape, both well-shaped and convincing narratives. (A caution: I would think you have to be careful with pieces referring to “Arbeit macht frei”, unless you expressly mean to refer to that time and place....)

"Working" by Carlos Simon was an homage to Michael Jackson, and as such, almost the only work on the concert with a beat. It is a convincing work, and I could imagine enjoying what Simon might produce for conventional instruments.

Ending the program was an experimental work in which the ensemble of laptop-wielding composers collected sound samples from audience members and whipped them into an electronic froth, over which a young woman sang a song which was certainly not improved by the extempore accompaniment. The tout-ensemble was like Dr. Johnson’s proverbial dog (quod vide). Names are omitted to protect the guilty!

Note: The CHAT Festival concludes 2/20 - see our calendar for details.