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But Not Simpler - Music Of Tod Machover, Vol. 5 / Mann, Odense Symphony Orchestra

Machover / Chertock / Odense Sym Orchestra / Mann
Release Date: 11/08/2011 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9346  
Composer:  Tod Machover
Performer:  Michael Chertock
Conductor:  Paul Mann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Odense Symphony OrchestraElectronic MediaIo String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

MACHOVER Sparkler. 3 Interludes 1 & 2. Hyper-Dim-Sums. 2 But Not Simpler 2 Jeux Deux 1,3 1 Michael Chertock (Hyperpiano); 2 iO Qrt; 3 Paul Mann, cond; Odense SO Read more class="BULLET12"> • BRIDGE 9346 (66:44)

The 2001 Sparkler is a tone poem for orchestra using live electronics that are both cued by the orchestra and process its sound in real time. (In all cases I am trying to describe this based on what I hear and Richard Dyer’s excellent notes; nevertheless some technical subtleties may elude me, and apologies thus are issued in advance.) The two Interludes (2006/2011) seem to be electroacoustic pieces that take fragments of Bach and Byrd played by the Ying quartet (with which the composer originally collaborated on a series of works) and mix/process them to create dreamy, complex, yet compact textures. The Three Hyper-Dim-Sums (2004) are products of the Hyperscore program, which is explained in the interview above. But Not Simpler (2005) is a big, dense single-movement (and all-acoustic) string quartet. And finally, Jeux-Deux (2005) is a true concerto, but for Hyperpiano and orchestra, the former being a Disklavier, an acoustic grand that is connected to computer software so as to allow a two-way flow of information with the keyboard.

Machover is subtle and ingenious in the way he uses technology. He tends to let it sneak up on the listener. I was intrigued by the way Sparkler seems first to have a slight shiver in its upper registers that could just be tremolo harmonics, but over time it becomes clearly an electroacoustic haze that contributes to both the texture and harmony of the piece. I frankly like the fact that it isn’t showy, and as a result it sounds like a quite natural new orchestral sound. The string quartet works are more of a mixed bag for me. The two interludes tend to get thick pretty quickly, and I don’t feel they add much to our sense of the originals. The Hyper-Dim-Sums are full of fancy and a certain wit (and I like the middle movement’s little waltz), though they do sound a little more made-to-order. But the string quartet is a rich work, buzzing with activity, packed with telling detail. I thought immediately of its relationship to Elliott Carter, one of Machover’s teachers, in its multiplicity and focus on particular pitch intervals in different sections; only after reading the notes did I see that Machover himself realized the connection, though only after having finished the piece!

But for me the major work of the program is the concerto. Each of its movements has a distinct character. The first is a rollercoaster, especially when running through cascades of computer-driven arpeggios and glissandi. The second begins as a sweet childlike melody, but moves into far darker regions with repetitions of a dark clangorous chord, which in turn usher in ever more noisy and ambiguous clouds of sound. The finale is cheerful, having a folkdance quality, though it too becomes wilder by the end. Overall it’s a very satisfying work, full of engaging detail and imaginative coups.

A couple of thoughts in conclusion. Machover states that he wants his music to reflect modern life, in what I read as its variety, information saturation, mutability. I think overall he succeeds, though I also feel at times the music is so constantly self-altering in a sort of feedback loop (a “dancing landscape” in complexity theory) that one can lose any central musical argument. I suspect the composer would argue that that’s just the point, and perhaps with time it will sound far clearer. Quite possible. But I also can’t help but feel that he has a very active and brilliant mind that is always going on warp drive, and sometimes it could use a little more deep breathing for contrast.

The other thought is about the performative nature of the technology, especially in the concerto. I’d love to see this piece live or on video ( Jeux Deux is available at youtube.com/watch?v=f8dZoESOs6E, but I haven’t had a chance to view it), as the superhuman gestures and textures the piano execute when triggered by the player bring up an interesting question on the nature/need for virtuosity. How does Machover compose music that will reassure any audience of Michael Chertock’s mastery, while still showing off the capacity of this new instrument? I suspect he succeeds in this, but it would be nice to actually see the division of labor. I can’t know otherwise. In lesser hands this could easily fall into a sort of karaoke. Not a criticism here, since the recorded results are exciting, just a caveat.

All performances are first-rate, and there’s no sense of anything left out from the composer’s intentions. Machover’s music has a bright, freshly colored surface that’s not traditionally tonal, yet feels connected to an aesthetic that goes back to Impressionism. He has a good musical sense of how to use these new resources to create results that are much more than just a tech demonstration. Recommended as an example of how the Holy Grail of interactivity continues to progress and redefine performance practice in this century.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Sparkler by Tod Machover
Conductor:  Paul Mann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Odense Symphony Orchestra,  Electronic Media
Interlude 1 "After Bach" by Tod Machover
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Electronic Media
Hyper-Dim-Sums by Tod Machover
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Io String Quartet
Interlude 2 "After Bach" by Tod Machover
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Electronic Media
…but not simpler… by Tod Machover
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Io String Quartet
Jeux Deux for hyperpiano and orchestra by Tod Machover
Performer:  Michael Chertock (Hyperpiano)
Conductor:  Paul Mann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Odense Symphony Orchestra
Notes: A hyperpiano is a concert grand piano which interacts with sensors and computer programs in order to expand its technical possibilities. 

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