- Ron Herrema: Changing Weights
Ron Herrema is a senior lecturer in Music, Technology, and Innovation at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. After completing a PhD in composition in 2001, he has built an impressive record of works that have been realized internationally. Mr. Herrema’s interests span acoustic and electroacoustic media, with specializations in algorithmic composition and interdisciplinary approaches to music composition.
This 36-min compact disc contains Mr. Herrema’s works from 1995 to 2003. There are seven tracks in all, ranging from 3′13″ to 7′25″ in length. In the introductory notes by the composer he states that he was concerned with placing idea before style. He also notes that there is a tendency running through all the works to explore boundaries “involving the rapprochement of several sets of seeming (or alleged) opposites” (p. 2). These oppositions include sound particles versus notes, sonic arts versus music, algorithmic composition versus drama, human gestures and sound particles versus notes. The composer writes music that is intended to appeal to both electroacoustic and acoustic music listeners alike.
This prescription seems like a tall order, requiring an astute layering of musical strands to engage the parallel processing capacity and narrative structuring capability, at which humans excel. In contrast, although there is some interesting experimental work presented here, the works are not layered well. The idea of boundaries seems to be explored with respect to the juxtaposition of offerings on this compact disc, with each work exploring a single idea.
The opening track, Changing Weights, composed in 2003, is an algorithmic work with a limited pitch/duration sonic palette. Largely tonal, it is developed through a stochastic process exploring primary ninth chords. This also creates melodic material through the use of probability weightings, within a harmonic set, applied to pitch. A similar probabilistic approach is applied to dynamics. Between these two techniques a sense of an evolving dialogue is created within the structure of the work. The limited harmonic material, [End Page 103] revolving around three chords and largely static rhythms, results in a minimalist work that is emotionally engaging. There is also a careful balance between traditional harmonic techniques and aspects of contemporary compositional praxis. Although a successful combination in many respects, one is left to ponder what additional things an improvising pianist might bring to such an idiom, in terms of additional color control and tempo manipulation.
Tintinnalogia, composed in 1995, is a short work for electronics. The title refers to the study of bells and change ringing, a traditional practice where church bells are rung in every possible ordered sequence. The work draws on change-ringing techniques with respect to rhythm and structure. At a dramatic level, some of the numerical values on which the work draws were selected due to “their significance as Christian symbols” (p. 3). The composer’s descriptive notes in the booklet give an example of this. Tintinnalogia also juxtaposes known bell sounds and gestures with sounds and gestures that may not be familiar. Despite the significant conceptual underpinning here, sonically the work sounds dated, conjuring up a sense of early analog electronic music. Again, a limitation is the lack of substantial textural and timbral exploration to significantly develop a narrative shape. Stylistically, the minimalist sense from the first work continues.
In Delicate Outbursts the sound is derived from a sampled piano. The composer’s concern here is to address general conceptions about MIDI and algorithmic composition as being overly mechanical and lacking in expressiveness. Consequently, the work explores a greater performance gambit by the careful manipulation of basic musical parameters, many of which conventional musicians control as a matter of course in acoustic performance. Despite the obvious conceptual cohesion, the work also dramatically engages in the flux of emotional juxtapositions. Much could have been done to extend the idea through better manipulation of timbre to make it an integral part of the work’s structure.
Streams, composed in 1998, is...