- Sounding Out!
A percussive sound rolls around the listening space just prior to an emergence of numerous whispers that gently drift through the room. The subtle rhythms of language cascade from all sides of the space, intersecting at times with the original noises that begin the piece, before stopping abruptly for the narration of segments from Gertrude Stein's Ida Ida. Initially, the carefully articulated language jumps abruptly between parts of the text and truncated elements of the original noise until relaxing at the cadence of the sentence, at which point sustained tones provide a moment of repose. This intriguing and exciting beginning to Linda Dusman's magnificat 4: Ida Ida evolves throughout the piece, maintaining careful relationships between language, tone, and more percussive noise elements. This balance between varying degrees of tension, of creating an immersive and multivalent environment, very broadly speaking, characterizes many of the pieces on Sounding Out!, a new DVD featuring multichannel electroacoustic works by composers who have, each in her own unique way, undergone the process of coming out.
Discussing the wide variety of works provided by Madelyn Byrne, Mara Helmuth, Anna Rubin, Renée T. Coulombe, and Kristin Norderval partly depends on how one chooses to evaluate the premise of the album. It is nearly impossible not to recall some of the difficulties critics encountered when writing about an earlier CD released by CRI of music explicitly by lesbian composers, specifically lesbian American composers and aptly titled Lesbian American [End Page 146] Composers (1998).1 In his review in the New York Times of the CRI album, Paul Griffiths wrestled with this notion, transitioning quickly among notions of sex, gender, nationality, and ethnicity: "The lesson may be that sex is much less important than national origin in influencing a composer's music. French music, Russian music, American music: these all have their particular sounds. Women's music does not. . . . Female composers . . . grow up in the same world as men."2 Griffiths struggled to articulate what would be sufficiently, immediately distinctive about music composed by a woman—much less a lesbian—to warrant the release of an album devoted to such music. Noting the stylistic diversity of the staggering group of artists on the album (e.g., Pauline Oliveros, Eve Beglarian, Jennifer Higdon, and Madelyn Byrne from Sounding Out! as well), Griffiths concluded that "sex, as well as sexual preference, is inaudible." Yet the release of Lesbian American Composers had its own context, having been released just four years after Queering the Pitch.3 Now, nearly fifteen years later, what does it mean to foreground sexuality with relationship to the music presented?
In his recent and provocative article "Queer Sound," Drew Daniel of Matmos confronts this issue, starting from a fairly different context, that is, the scenario of walking into a gay bar, hearing "French Kiss" by Lil' Louis, and recognizing the particular place this song once had in the late eighties and early nineties. Noting his own surprising disconnect with the song, Daniel adeptly notes as well the need to continue rethinking and redefining sound and its relationships to identity, stating that "there are all sorts of places to go and people to be, but so long as one is not free not to be 'someone,' there is really nowhere else to go, and no one worth being."4 But the dilemma Daniel confronts in finding the freedom to "go places" and "be people" is where Sounding Out! shows its strength. It reminds one that numerous musical voices exist—that, as Coulombe says in the liner notes, coming out itself is a continual process and that finding and creating a variety of spaces to listen differently is part of the creative battle at stake.
Madelyne Byrne's Arrival works with the metaphor of travel and its resonance with self-discovery. The piece gently traverses a wide range of sounds, first the sound of rain, to glassy synthesized sounds, and at times incorporating sounds of planes taking off in the distance. Occasionally, one can hear elements of...