Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Machine Awakes.
Stephen Andrew Taylor, cond;
Sinfonia da Camera;
Amy van Roekel (sop);
Daniel Schlosberg, (pn);
Oto Carillo (hn);
Masumi Rostad (va);
Michael Cameron (db);
Ann Yeung (hp)
ALBANY TROY 1179 (67:04)
If you have an interest in science, or in science fiction—and classical music-loving sci-fi fans are thicker on the ground than you might suppose—then the music of Stephen Andrew Taylor (b. 1965) might be particularly appealing to you. He is completing an opera (
) based on a novella by Ursula K. LeGuin, and his orchestral work
(commissioned and premiered by the American Composers Orchestra) was inspired by images from the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as by the New Testament.
The science/sci-fi connection is present in all four works offered here.
The Machine Awakes
is a work for coloratura soprano and chamber orchestra whose text is taken from a novel by Richard Powers called
. In this novel, scientists are attempting to teach a computer named Helen self-awareness, and
The Machine Awakes
is a musical depiction of Helen’s journey toward a “digital consciousness.” As her self-awareness grows, Helen expresses a liking for certain music (Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, for example), and Taylor weaves older music into his own as cunningly as he depicts Helen’s development through increasingly warm—“human,” if you will—vocal writing. There’s drama here, and Taylor tells a good and involving story, even if the language is somewhat challenging. Soprano Amy van Roekel does a fine job with a difficult part, and more than adequately realizes Helen’s story in song.
is based on a project by Maya Lin in which seven locations (Yellowstone National Park, Antarctica, etc.) serve as a virtual memorial to the extinction of Earth’s species. The last site is a satellite link, “watching all sites, monitoring the planet.” This is a piano cycle commissioned by Gloria Cheng, who performs it here. Before composing it, Taylor had been studying Messiaen’s
, and that work’s influence can be heard in these intriguing works. In the sixth movement (“Black Smoker,” a volcanic vent located on the ocean’s floor), the pianist is asked to mute some of the strings by laying Blu-Tac over them. In several parts of the cycle, Taylor asks the pianist to negotiate unusual time signatures, such as 5/12 and 6/14. Cheng, who has developed a reputation as a strong exponent of contemporary piano music, achieves results that are both satisfying and intriguing.
Quarks are subatomic particles that comprise matter, and
is Taylor’s somewhat playful attempt to describe the irregular trails they leave. The second movement also was inspired by the birth of his daughter, and if this seems like a strange juxtaposition of ideas, the music—terse, pointillistic, abstract, precise, yet not inhuman—actually helps to reconcile them. A work for horn, viola, double bass, and piano (again, sometimes prepared) presents a strange juxtaposition of its own, but Taylor makes that combination of instruments not only work but seem natural … or even inevitable, as a manifestation of scientific phenomena.
is a fascinating work for harp and real-time electronics—that is to say, the electronics are modifying the sound of the harp as it is being played. This allows the creation of sophisticated reverb effects, slow glissandi, and so on—a “super harp,” if you will. In performance,
is accompanied by a video based on paintings by artist Hua Nian. (The CD’s booklet reproduces another of Hua Nian’s paintings.) Of course we don’t get the visual component on the CD, but Taylor’s cloudscapes still make an impact. They are pretty and anything but shallow. Harpist Ann Yeung, for whom
was composed, weaves an intoxicating spell here.
This disc is produced by the composer, and one assumes that the performances express his intentions. Nothing about them suggests otherwise to me. I assume different recording venues and dates were needed to complete this CD, yet these four works sound right together.
With his refined and imaginative sound world, Stephen Andrew Taylor is a composer worth hearing.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Works on This Recording
Quark Shadows by Stephen Andrew Taylor
Michael Cameron (Double Bass),
Masumi Rostad (Viola),
Oto Carillo (French Horn),
Daniel Schlosberg (Piano)
Nebulae by Stephen Andrew Taylor
Ann Yeung (Harp)
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