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Music Review : An Earful Of Bleeps, Bells, Pulses


LA JOLLA — At the advent of electronic music, visionary modernists predicted that concerts given by live musicians would soon become as outmoded as buggy whips. In the inexorable course of progress, they argued, sophisticated machinery would take over the drudging manual labor of music-making. Such futurists were as off base as their counterparts who predicted that food consumption would be reduced to popping meal-complete tablets or that everyone would commute in their own private helicopter.

Although most composers continue to prefer writing for live musicians who play traditional instruments, electronic music has influenced the way in which younger composers hear the sonic possibilities of such live performance. Thursday night's concert at UC San Diego's Center for Music Experiment, a mixture of acoustic and electronic music performances, provided ample evidence of this reciprocal influence.

Paul Koonce's "Mezzo" for solo violin imploded with the discrete, pointillistic tones characteristic of minutely calibrated computer-generated sounds. Violinist Janos Negyesy displayed a host of deftly plucked sounds as well as delicately bowed colors with a wide variety of attacks and sustains. His serene concentration as solo performer mirrored the work's inward, vaguely mystical ethos.

In "Soul Rejoinder" for tape, composer Robert Scott Thompson mixed computer-synthesized timbres with manipulated recorded sounds of voice, trumpet and bamboo flute. The resultant intersecting sonic planes suffused the room in a vaguely new age wash of sound, accented by pinpoint bell sounds and a scattering of muddy electronic growls associated with the more primitive stages of musique concrete .

The program's most traditional offering was John Stevens' "Pentas," played by the La Jolla Woodwind Quintet. While it commenced with nonchalant layers of wispy, fluttering motifs--the type favored by the UCSD stable of graduate composers--it soon lapsed into muted themes in the lowest ranges. The ensemble performed with its usual poise and cleanly etched phrasing.

Three members of the same quintet essayed Chris Dobrian's "Parable" for bass flute, bass oboe and bass clarinet. In a timbral experiment of mesmerizing beauty, Dobrian exploited the deep, opaque colors of this unusual combination. Subtly pulsed, undulating unisons created the sensation of Middle Eastern chant.

Flutists John Fonville and Ann LaBerge essayed Fonville's academic duo, "Mong Songs," although they showed more conviction and animation than they did at November's Sonor concert. In some welcome comic relief, Rick Bidlack and Bob Willey closed the evening with their unbridled "Two over f " for computer-mediated synthesizer. With each maestro hunched over his electronic keyboard in mocking Glenn Gould pose, the ensuing bleeps and twitters had the abandon of hard rock in comparison to the studied precision of the rest of the program.

Three more concerts will follow in this series at the Center for Music Experiment, including a program May 29 by violinist Negyesy and digital realtime computer whiz Lee G. Ray. The June 2 concert will present electronic works mainly by UCSD faculty composers, and the closing event, June 11, will feature the vocal improvisational ensemble KIVA.

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