- New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival
[Editor's note: Selected reviews are posted on the Web at http://www.computermusicjournal.org (click on the Reviews tab). In some cases, they are either unpublished in the Journal itself or published in an abbreviated form in the Journal.]
2017 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival: Abrons Arts Center, New York
This year's New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (NYCEMF) was an impressive and very well organized event. The festival took place in three separate spaces: a large theater, an underground space for video productions, and an experimental theater for the performance of fixed media pieces. This spatial dispersion allowed for a smooth and continuous sequence of sound checks, rehearsals, and performances, with just enough time between pieces for applause and resetting. This review discusses the first part of the festival, which took place at the Abrons Arts Center in Manhattan. There was also a second part that took place during three days in mid July at National Sawdust in Brooklyn.
In this first part of the festival about 220 pieces by almost as many composers were performed in 21 concerts of around 120 minutes each. In a way this festival felt like a continuation of the legendary Bourges International Festival of Experimental Music, and is a more settled event than the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC), where the efforts of the different organizing country committees try to fit their submissions into a single year event.
The hand and experience of the NYCEMF's main organizer, Hubert Howe, was present in the programming and execution of events, which went smoothly thanks to a staff of dedicated technicians, performers, and volunteers. It is also worth mentioning that each of the venues was equipped with an excellent octophonic system.
The concerts featured a wide range of genres, styles, and formats. There were 30 fixed media, electroacoustic pieces with clear "musical" intent; 108 fixed media, sound art works; 56 pieces with instruments and/or voices; 33 video pieces; 2 instrumental pieces featuring the NYU Ensemble, using scores with video projection; and 6 live laptop performances. Notably, more women artists were represented this year. There were 28 pieces by women, half by composers and performers from the United States.
The overall programming trend was clear. Compared with previous festivals we heard less pure "music," more sound art and improvisation through live laptop performances, and more synthesizer or electronic equipment used in recorded performances. There was also an increased emphasis on effects, hardware, and software development. In the "musical" pieces category the strongest works included the rhythmic piece Night Study 2 by Felipe Otondo, the effective textural atmosphere of Structures to Earth by Christiane Strothmann, and Korper by Antonio D'Amato. Alone View was also a standout, especially given the fact that it was composed by a high school student, Michael Gaspari.
In the electroacoustic music category there were many sound art pieces. These composers seemed interested in probing their own surroundings—home, work, their landscape, urban noises, and the ecology or phenomena where sound features as a distinguishing factor of location. This is because nowadays high-quality portable recorders are readily available and easy to use, just like smartphones. This allows for the possibility of recording sonic snapshots at any moment. The point is then to create an intelligible sequence of sounds that suggest to the listener a sense of place and time—what one might describe as an audio film.
The noteworthy pieces in this category include: Age by John Nichols III, which featured loud and abrasive, colorful materials; Gilles Gobeil's Des temps oublies, a very Canadian radioart concept piece based on a story about Franz Liszt and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and featuring delicate sonorities; Pablo Garcia Valenzuela's No Rayados, a portrait of the Mexican Revolution with an impressive usage of steam [End Page 83] train recordings; and Rikhardur H. Fridriksson's Postcards from the North and South, which I would describe as the sound of an imaginary city landscape. Two compositions—Nathan Bowen's Rift and José Manuel Berenguer's On Nothing...