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A composer's bold keystrokes

January 28, 2006|Josef Woodard | Special to The Times

Introducing a new Morton Subotnick work Thursday night at REDCAT, CalArts President Steven Levine breezily dubbed the composer "the pied piper of electronic music."

The occasion was the opening concert of this year's CalArts-organized CEAIT Festival (the initials stand for Center for Experiments in Art, Information and Technology). And Levine's description, although simple, was nonetheless true.

Among dominant figures in the seminal generation of electronic music, Subotnick has lured followers from both the experimental die-hard and populist camps. He has deftly blended cerebral ideas and easy-to-love seductiveness.

The composer (who will retire this year from CalArts, which he joined in 1968) did it again with "Until Spring Revisited," an engaging piece for two sound-producing laptops, clarinet and a live video element.

With multiple speakers around REDCAT, he transformed the room into a kaleidoscopic vessel of sound and data. If the age of laptops has produced some dry, intellectual computer music, Subotnick characteristically manages to inject visceral charm and energy -- the human touch -- into the mix.

"Until Spring Revisited" is a highly spatial and multi-sensory affair that was aided by Miguel Frasconi on laptop and by videographer Sue Costabile. From her own laptop, Costabile created a spontaneous, kinetic abstraction on a large screen.

Subotnick pushed into new territory but connected to the continuum of his work. A digital reworking of 1976's "Until Spring," the new piece found the composer opening with languid tones on clarinet, his original instrument. Before long, he assumed his rightful position at his "real" instrument, a laptop command post. From the outset, the real-time clarinet sounds were manipulated, starting a seamless hourlong invention. It slid from swirling drones to stuttering rhythmic percolations. At one point, live vocal sounds were inserted into the data flow.

Through it all, Subotnick created a rich and, most important, musical blend of sonic attitudes, densities and textures.

Tonight's festival finale is to feature media artist Kadet Kuhne and sound artists David Dunn and James Crutchfield.


CEAIT Festival

Where: REDCAT at Walt Disney Concert Hall, 2nd and Hope streets, L.A.

When: 8:30 tonight

Price: $18

Contact: (213) 237-2800 or

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