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Music Review

At Villa Aurora, European and American Music Mostly Falters

September 28, 2001|JOHN HENKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Foundation for European-American Relations did indeed bring together European and American music Tuesday evening at Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades, though to no great purpose. Modest examples of European electronica and American experimentalism coexisted on the Contemporaries in Concert program, co-sponsored by CalArts.

Works by Andre Werner, the departing Villa Aurora composer-in-residence, framed the program. "Stanzen 4 A/D I" is a multimedia piece, Werner's resonant electronic burblings matched with monochrome video of abstract drawings by Michael Zeidler--and coy video of the video as presented in Berlin last year.

Apologies were made for the poor technical quality of the performance, presented from computer files rather than digital tape, but higher resolution wouldn't have compensated for drab imagination.

"Dying Tiger," the finale, had the benefit of mezzo Jacqueline Bobak's fearless singing. But Werner's setting of the Emily Dickinson poem as a neurotic rhapsody seemed exaggerated in both the vocal line and the murmurous electronic accompaniment. In Michael Fink's improvisation on electric guitar, rapidly tapped, continuous left-hand arpeggios built a dark, repressed sonic mass, lit with little glinting spikes from the right hand and shaped through a palpable arc of limited development.

In contrast, Michael Pisaro's acoustic guitar solo, "within (3)," seemed almost motionless. There may have been performance art irony here, what with Pisaro studying the music intently and carefully setting the fingers of both hands before plucking long, single notes.

Most interesting musically and technologically were excerpts from Mark Trayle's "Saw, Stripe, & Tablet."

Trayle's sounds, including sampled speech, were not unusual, but he coaxed them from his computer with a digital drawing tablet and a musical saw and he managed to arrange them with uncircumscribed flair.

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