Many’s the time in the last few years when, both in the concert hall & at home, i’ve found myself listening to yet more music for random-acoustic-instrument plus electronics—& been absolutely bored off my face. The quest for novelty seems to have ruled the electroacoustic roost for years & years, dominated by an approach to music-making that largely consists of: instrumentalist plays some material; computer (i.e. Max/MSP patch) does something with that material; instrumentalist responds to the computer; & back & forth until one of them decides to stop. Often the nature of the relationship between player & computer, as well as a sense of structural coherence & inner logic, are both fuzzy & ill-defined, & while works like this may perhaps have a skin-deep beauty that’s briefly beguiling, ephemerality remains their strongest characteristic.
It’s no small triumph, then, that the new CD from Carla Rees & Scott Miller, exploring music for flute & electronics, is so exciting & memorable. The title, Devices and Desires, is allusive—not a million miles from Ligeti’s ‘Clocks & Clouds’—evoking cool & hot impulses, a juxtaposition of measured rationality with unpredictable whim. From this melting pot of head & heart, Rees & Miller have created six pieces that each occupy a different position on the composed/improvised continuum, including “a fully composed work …, structured improvisations … and free improvisations … All of the electronic sound heard on the CD is the result of processing the sound of the flute, whether in real-time, from a sample taken earlier in the performance, or from a recording made years before we made the recording” (from Scott Miller’s programme notes). Both flute & computer fall outside convention; Miller uses the Kyma X sound design environment, while Rees uses a Kingma System C flute, an instrument designed to enable quartertones to be easily played. These instruments were brought together in “an inspired three-hour recording session”, & the result is Devices and Desires.