- Fallen Sparrow, and: Monkey King
Barry Schrader entices and challenges audiences yet again with two electroacoustic compact discs: Fallen Sparrow (2006) and Monkey King (2008). Each release uniquely addresses Mr. Schrader's creative spark and expert technical skill, while simultaneously reflecting his penchant for extra-musical inspiration realized through meticulous attention to musical idea and development. These discs embody Mr. Schrader's purposeful compositional intent, featuring pieces that can be listened to in many ways and studied from many different perspectives.
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The earlier release, Fallen Sparrow, illustrates Mr. Schrader's mastery in combining live performance with prerecorded electroacoustic music. On a large scale, the composer's carefully designed track arrangement creates a seamless, flowing sonic experience. Each composition fits within the disc's time stream, progressing through a meta-world of sonic events. It's clear that Mr. Schrader deliberately considers the many relationships that exist between acoustic instruments and electroacoustic sounds. He thoughtfully crafts sonic, rhythmic, motivic, harmonic, and formal materials, creating music that exhibits both freedom and reliance between instruments and electronics. Although temporally aligned with the electroacoustics due to the fixed nature of the sounds, the instrumentalist weaves seamlessly through the synthetic sound world, appearing free from time and technical constraints. The electroacoustic sounds envelop and enhance the acoustic instrument, sometimes providing a driving rhythmic accompaniment and at other times creating a lush textural background allowing the instrumentalist to float above or virtuosically traverse through. Mr. Schrader precisely addresses each compositional element to accurately balance the instrumentalist and electroacoustics, designing every moment to create a natural amalgamation between the two. This is no easy task, yet the musical result is organic and seamless.
Twentieth-century music theorist Leonard Meyer's ideas about embodied and designated meanings in music feature centrally in Fallen Sparrow. Embodied meaning, as Mr. Schrader explains in the liner notes, "refers to the meaning of the relationship of musical materials to each other," whereas designative meaning "alludes to extra-musical, programmatic, or emotional ideas." Fallen Sparrow's compositions explore these meanings conceptually, musically, and technically. Embodied meaning features centrally in Five Arabesques (William Powell, clarinet), where all of the piece's musical material is based on the first phrase of the clarinet part of "Arabesque 5," and Ravel (Vicki Ray, piano), where each of the three continuous movements is based on a small amount of musical material from Maurice Ravel's piano works.
Designative meaning features centrally in the title track composition Fallen Sparrow (2005), for violin and electronics. Mr. Schrader recounts the piece's inspiration in the liner notes—the act of finding a dead sparrow that had created a small nest out of lint from the dryer exhaust fan. Although such an event might be overlooked by most, Mr. Schrader designs a detailed, expansive story surrounding the sparrow and its life. He imagines the sparrow's possible thoughts during its dying moments; how it may have remembered the vitality and energy of its youth, the freedom of flying, the excitement of spring, and the vastness of night. Violinist Mark Menzies soars elegantly through a lush electronic sound world, sometimes in the first-person character of the sparrow and other times as a third-person observer. The violin mimics bird sounds at times literally through extended techniques such as glissando harmonics, and other times more abstractly through plaintive motives expressing [End Page 113] solitude and reflection. The piece as a whole progresses intimately though the sparrow's life, from youth and activity, through resolute determination to sustain itself during the frozen winter, to its dying reflections on life. Many times, the electroacoustic elements seem to reflect nature, sounding like trees, wind, other...