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Reviewed by:
  • Machine Language
  • Matthew McCabe
Dan Trueman : Machine Language. Compact disc, Bridge Records 9149, 2004; available from Bridge Records, 200 Clinton Avenue, New Rochelle, New York 10801, USA; telephone (+1) 914-654-9270; fax (+1) 914-636-1383; Web

I had the pleasure of working with Dan Trueman at the 2007 Third Practice Electroacoustic Music Festival at the University of Richmond. As the technical director of the festival, I took a front-row seat in the production of his Five (and a half) Gardens, performed by Trollstilt and So Percussion. During the setup and rehearsals, I found Mr. Trueman to be a sensitive, concerned, exacting musician. I was excited to review this compact disc release, Machine Language, after working with him, and I found many of those same admirable qualities in the music on the CD.

The opening track shares its title with the disc. Scored for two violins (one electric, played by Mr. Trueman himself), percussion, and cello, Machine Language is dreamy and pensive, with hints of Gorecki-like spirituality and clear world-music influences. The composer notes his inspiration for the piece, making mention of the genetic algorithms cultivated by computer scientists in the study of artificial life. If Machine Language is, as Mr. Trueman explains, an imagined version of the languages these virtual life forms might speak, clearly the composer has imagined a species with a poetic and whimsical nature. The work evolves patiently, starting with rustic, folk-like tones, and continuing to a percussive, rhythmic middle, and finally moving to a peaceful close, rich with color. Far from sounding computational, Mr. Trueman's little life forms cavort about, singing in a way that communicates more as a natural language than as a set of algorithms.

The second work, Traps, expands the ensemble to string quartet plus electric violin and portable computer. The piece opens with shimmering string textures that move in waves, punctuated by opaque processing from the computer, explained in the liner notes as a sort of pitch retention/transposition machine. Still more patient and meditative than Machine Language, Traps exceeds in its execution of the underlying programming. The final three minutes twist the pitch language into the realm of tension and dissonance, and finally resolves the clashing with a return to the gentle textures of the opening. Traps is beautiful and sublime, and my favorite track on this disc.

Counterfit Curio is an exercise in discovering an antiquity, though not in the typical sense: The music progresses through a myriad of materials, including cinematic-sounding descending melodies, further folk-like string writing, and bubbly hocketed textures, as well as synthesized sounds and many 20th-century "new music" stylistic gestures. These materials increasingly coalesce as the work moves forward, with the exception of a period of exciting musical stops about halfway through, leading to a tuneful, rhythmic section. The final part of the piece, as the composer notes, is a manufactured "old-sounding" recording created from the previously heard musical materials. With this piece, it's almost as if Mr. Trueman is teaching us music history in reverse: a kind of anti-remix that results in an old music of some mysterious culture that never existed. Pierrot-plus-percussion ensemble Non Sequitur sounds brilliant and rehearsed in the recording.

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Following Counterfit Curio is the complimentary Spring Rhythm. Citing Jackson Pollock and medieval motets as inspiration for the piece, Mr. Trueman creates a work whose expressivity mirrors both sources, and combines the "spatter" technique of Pollock with the refinement of a motet, almost as if the paint spatters (translated here as textures and pitches) contract and expand into the rhythms and rousing syncopations found in the work.

Still reflects its title well, with the mixture of strings and electrical humming sounds offering a relatively static sonic landscape that widely stretches out in every direction. This is perhaps the most pensive of the works on the disc, and the composer admirably acknowledges in the booklet how, after completing the work on the morning of 9/11, the piece found itself in a new context. Indeed, after listening and reading the notes...


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