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A small coterie of devotees was present at Person Recital Hall of the University of North Carolina for a concert of contemporary music, with electro-acoustic works on the first half and a live ensemble, Gray Code, performing after the intermission. UNC has not been an institution noted for its cultivation of electro-acoustic music (in contrast to Princeton, for example, a leader in the field for decades), but UNC is making up for lost time and now has dedicated equipment and a studio.
Leading off the group of four student works was "London," by Jimmy Kylstra, in which the composer manipulated sounds drawn from his reading of the famous sonnet (in which "the youthful harlot's curse blasts the new-born infant's tear"), but with an affect far from the bleak, dreary poetry. Kylstra's structures were clear, with convincing transitions and development. Next up was Benjamin Crouch's "Palm Key," with insectoid buzzings, glisses, moans, and metallic clangs but an ending that was too abrupt, seeming unprepared. This inability to create a convincing conclusion also was present in "221B Baker Street," by Eric Boren, a piece for which the materials used and their transformations were a little too commonplace — pulsing bass, chords, regular events too obviously manipulated. A better match between a more restricted palette and a briefer duration was found in "Cinagrorganic," by Alex Van Gils, in which the return of the opening sonority at the closing points to what must have been a palindromic structure. Van Gils was heard here performing on a stripped-down acoustic bass (only the neck and strings remained, with pickups). The first half concluded with an "audiovision,", "Correspondences," by Butch Rovan, based around a Baudelaire sonnet. Rovan is a faculty member at Brown, and this extended and accomplished work presented a dreamlike state that recalled the work of the surrealists from eighty years ago and skillfully combined music and images. I don't think I liked the work, but I enjoyed it.
Rovan returned after intermission to perform a work entitled integer winter, and credited to Gray Code, a trio consisting of Rovan on bass clarinet and electronics, Kevin Patton, electric guitar and electronics, and Fred Kennedy, percussion. The work lasted approximately forty minutes, and was, gentle reader, the most gruesomely, dreadfully boring performance I have heard in years, combining the worst aspects of jazz and classical music. You were lucky that you weren't there. If this was composed, then the composition was vapid; if improvised, the improvisations were amateurish to the nth degree. We heard a string of meaningless pseudo-events over a marginally competent free jazz beat from Kennedy (why is free jazz drumming so often reducible to 4/4?). There was no evidence of any level of technical mastery from Patton's guitar. Rovan's contributions on bass clarinet were a tad more interesting. The whole mishegas was amplified to a painful level in the live acoustics of Person Hall. Finally, it was over, and Gray Code took an unmerited ten-minute encore, since, as an anonymous listener said, "they had toys that they hadn't used yet."