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Charles Dodge: A Retrospective

Dodge / Dodge,Baird
Release Date: 06/08/2010 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80701-2   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Charles Dodge
Performer:  John NesciSteven GilbornBaird Dodge
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DODGE Cascando 1,2. Fades, Dissolves, Fizzles. Violin Variations 3 1 John Nesci ( Opener ); 2 Steven Gilborn ( Voice ); 3 Baird Dodge (vn) NEW WORLD 80701-2 (55:18) Read more

Charles Dodge (b.1942) is one of the true pioneers of computer music, having both defined a whole domain of technique and simultaneously written a body of distinctive and often haunting work. His most notable achievement has been in the realm of speech synthesis. From very early on, he developed programming to resynthesize human speech sounds (modeled on recorded acoustic sources) so that the computer could speak and sing in a way recognizable to us humans. His great “trick” piece is Any Resemblance Is Totally Coincidental , where a live pianist accompanies a recording of Caruso singing “Vesti la giubba,” which gradually takes off on its own from the source and begins to sing more “modernistically” … yet is still Caruso.

This sort of “morphing,” a passing of one sound through the harmonic and dynamic envelope of another, has become extremely common, with results comparable to the sort of visual morphing we expect from film special effects. Frances White, in her perceptive notes, points out that when Dodge began to work with this process, the results were far more timbrally raw than we now expect. But she makes a convincing case that in Cascando (1977), a setting of a Samuel Beckett radio play, Dodge found the perfect balance between the sounds possible at the time and his material. Based on the three characters of the play, there are: (1) a narrating voice (Opener), unaltered; (2) a processed voice (Voice) that sings raspily and tells the typical Beckett story of a struggling, marginal being; and (3) Music, which is “pure” computer music, though derived from material within the processed voice.

The result is chilling in a way that seems completely in tune with its source. The Voice has a desperate, crabbed quality, and embedded within it are simple modal structures that give it a sing-song quality, but one that more emerges from its structure than is imposed upon it. The Music at first seems chaotic, but gradually it evidences more structure, genuine counterpoint, and its derivation from the motives of the Voice become ever clearly upon repeated encounters.

Fades, Dissolves, Fizzles (1995) is a mixed-media piece (we used to call them “tape pieces”), made from a three-part conversation between ethereal sustained tones, tinkling bell cascades, and an electronic gamelan. The Violin Variations (2009) is four short movements that are austere and elegantly restrained in their interplay between computer and acoustic instrument. It’s authoritatively played by Baird Dodge (I assume related to the composer; his son?). Both use just intonation tuning systems.

I find this music rigorous in its technique and aesthetic vision. And so I enjoy it. I also have two reservations. Dodge’s sense of form is highly cyclic, i.e., things repeat and don’t obviously go anywhere (in fact they do, but it’s subtle). As such, I find there’s a disconnect between this more spacey, minimalist (or at least non-teleological) approach to form and the more intense, focused, and nervous surface language that comes out of late Modernist music. And due to this, the music can feel like it goes on a little too long. My other concern is timbre. In the two pieces 20 and 30 years after Cascando , Dodge’s sounds have gotten richer, but not as much as White suggests. Maybe it’s just my taste, too influenced by bright, poppy sounds, but they seem a little grey, or at least more burnished than necessary.

But those don’t negate my admiration for this music (all works appear to be recorded premieres, as well). It has integrity, but more than that—it has real imagination. Dodge has always used the digital medium as a way to lead us to the realm of the uncanny, as have few other composers.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Cascando by Charles Dodge
Performer:  John Nesci (Voice), Steven Gilborn (Voice)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1977 
Fades, Dissolves, Fizzles by Charles Dodge
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995 
Violin Variations by Charles Dodge
Performer:  Baird Dodge (Violin)
Written: 2009 

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