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Interesting Sounds in Kresge

With Strings Attached, the MIT Experimental Music Studio in Kresge Auditorium, Feb. 22.

The MIT Experimental Music Studio held a concert in Kresge Auditorium on Friday, entitled "With Strings Attached." It featured compositions by various artists that combined conventional stringed instruments with computer sounds in an experimental fusion of classical and modern musical techniques.

A varied sampling of the MIT community attended the concert, and despite the extremely modern style of the music, it was well received. The first two pieces, however, got things off to a slow start. They were both entirely on tape, and suffered from a lack of any apparent raison d'^etre. The first, "Microvariations," by Graham Hair, ostensibly dealt with various polyrhythms with the help of the precision capabilities of computers. The second, "Poi," by John Rimmer, was described as an electronic tone poem inspired by New Zealand native dances. Both pieces failed to find any apparent direction or pattern, at least to these ears.

The third piece was a better effort. Entitled "Lysogeny," by Carla Scaletti, it featured the composer playing harp accompanied by taped computer tones. The program notes did not describe the piece, but instead explained lysogeny, which is the process by which viruses replicate within living cells. Apparently the composer intended to bring the harp and computer into interaction in such a way as to transfer and transform one another's characteristics. Scaletti did in fact create interesting and compelling harmonies between the harp and the synthesized sound recording.

The following performance, "As If," was the highlight of the first half, and indeed of the concert. Composed by Paul Lansky, it utilized the International String Quartet from Brown University variously accompanied by and accompanying a tape. Presented in four movements, the interaction of the strings and computer resulted in a complex and beautiful flow of harmonies. The composer intended to juxtapose the dynamic presence of the live instruments with the predestined momentum of the recorded tones. The result was the most interesting and stimulating collaboration of strings and computer of the evening.

The second half of the concert started with "Red Cup and Rat (What's Wrong With This Picture?)," by Douglas Fulton. It was a short and lively collection of rhythms and tones, entirely on tape, but ending too soon. The rest of the second half was taken up by "Electronic Etudes," by Tod Machover. Five in number, the etudes explored the outer limits of the soundmaking capabilities of the cello, with and without sophisticated electronic effects.

Machover on the cello provided some interesting harmonies and tones, but much of the performance was spent in the nonlinear areas of the instrument. The result was various squeaks, groans, and plunks, a technique difficult to find meaningful. Though it's dangerous to be a critic with such new musical styles, it seems to me that an instrument such as the cello provides several advantages for making sounds; I'm in favor of seeking out new soundmaking opportunities for an instrument, but the logic of exploiting its disadvantages escapes me.

In general, however, the evening provided a valuable glimpse into the newest trends in music. The Experimental Music Studio will continue its concert series with performances on April 19 and May 11.

Steve Huntley->