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Reviewed by:
  • Natasha Barrett: Kraftfelt
  • Curtis Roads
Natasha Barrett: Kraftfelt DVD-Audio + CD, Aurora ACD 5037, 2005, Norwegian Society of Composers, CAN$ 33; available from Diffusion i Média, 4580 avenue de Lorimier, Montréal, Québec H2H 2B5, Canada; fax (+1) 514-526-4487; electronic mail; Web

Natasha Barrett burst onto the international musical scene with Little Animals in 1997. That work, with its stunning sound quality and extraordinary detail, gained immediate recognition. That same year she completed her doctoral dissertation at City University, London, under mentor Denis Smalley. The dissertation, entitled "Structuring Processes in Electro-acoustic Composition," focused largely on the acousmatic discourse. In this discourse, electroacoustic mu-sic reflects an interplay of associations between pure sound phenomena and references to external, microphone recorded phenomena.

This latest set from the prolific composer continues in a similar vein. [End Page 104] Of course, the more that music serves as a reference to extramusical contexts, the more it functions like narration, documentation, and drama. These functions are taken up explicitly in the trio of pieces making up Kraftfelt [Force field], a one-hour set. The pieces are delivered in two formats: a standard compact disc, and a DVD-audio disc designed for 5.1-surround playback. As a bonus, the DVD-audio was mixed with second-order ambisonic processing for accu-rate localization. You do not need an ambisonic decoder to hear the impressive spatial result.

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In . . . fetters . . . (2002) Natasha Barrett holds nothing back. This work, commissioned by Norwegian Radio, targets the listener's paralimbic brain—the source of strong emotional reactions. One is bombarded with expressive sounds in high densities and from all directions. The mix of wildly disparate material is sometimes crazy. When I heard Magnus Rindal whispering in Old Norse I felt for a moment like I was listening to the soundtrack of Lord of The Rings (which I have never heard but somehow I feel that I already know). Fortunately, that momentary impression passed. Other sound sources include environmental recordings from the Smithfield Market in London's East End and expressive vocalisms by soprano Kristin Norderval.

As the composer notes, Prince Prospero's Party (2002) could be regarded as "a sonification of Edgar Allen Poe's short story The Mask of the Red Death" (program notes). As program music, it is near to radio drama, although the narrative consists mainly of men laughing, punctuated by the ominous clang of a gigantic clock. The subject matter of this work, however, is no laughing matter:

No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

(The Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allen Poe, 1842)

Exploratio Invisibilis (2003) is a 30-minute journal through a virtual landscape of sound energy. It builds skillfully from a quiet and sparse opening into a full musical texture. Quotations from concrete sources highlight the theme of a journey, including the sound of walking on gravel (we are moving), rainstorms (the weather changes), streams of water (we pass by landmarks), and other evocative sounds, both intimate and magnified. Of the three works, this is the most refined.

The overall impression of Kraftfelt is an intensity of expression, surging and flowing, rumbling and sighing, blending all in a multilayered lattice of associations and sensations—a feast for the ears.

Curtis Roads
Santa Barbara, California, USA


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pp. 104-105
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