- Roger Reynolds: Watershed IV
Mode Records has recently added DVDs to its catalog, and is one of the first labels specializing in new music to do so. The first of these releases is Roger Reynolds: Watershed IV; Eclipse; The Red Act Arias (mode 70). Often the first releases in a new media are simple ports from older media that do not take advantage of new features. Happily, such is not the case for this DVD; it makes aesthetically satisfying use of the media.
Watershed IV is the featured work on the disc. It is performed by percussionist Steven Schick, who premiered the work in 1996. The piece is for percussion, and surround-sound spatialization. The spatialization is accomplished with TRAnSiT (Toward Real-time Audio Spacialization Tools), which was developed at the Center for Research in Computer and the Arts (CRCA) at The University of California at San Diego (UCSD). TRAnSiT runs in a MAX/ FTS environment on a Silicon Graphics computer.
The video of the piece is a studio performance presented in a concert hall. It was shot from multiple angles, and a few sections of the work allow the user to select from one of two views of the performance. The angles run the gamut from long shots to close-ups, providing a lot of visual variety. Mr. Schick's performance is impeccable and dramatic. The spatialization is powerful both in the stereo version and in the Dolby 5.1 version. It is also very tasteful and not at all gimmicky. The surround sound is performed by Peter Otto, who, along with Mr. Reynolds, Miller Puckette, Josef Kucera, and Timothy Labor, developed the TRAnSiT system.
Mr. Schick explains in one of the interviews on the disc that the physical setup of the percussion instruments is done in layers, with six skins of diverse sizes at the center, a small table of "oddities" (including a small flower pot, a wine bottle, a metallic bowl, a coffee can, a temple block, a cowbell, as well as other objects), metals of various types and sizes, and four wooden boxes. These four categorizations are treated by the composer as different characters in a drama. In the interviews included on the disc, the composer speaks of the piece as a metaphorical drama that moves from the didactic to the expansive, the objective to the subjective.
The work lasts roughly half an hour and is subdivided into eight sections: Beginning, Rain 1, Rain 2, Rain 3, Watershed Divide, Storm 1 Begins, Storm 2 Begins, and Singing Drums. These episodes flow smoothly one into another. Early sections of the piece often feature short repeated rhythmic fragments that are meant to represent "didactic" thought processes.
Given the setup of the percussion instruments, which surround the performer at various levels, Mr. Schick's performance has a choreographic quality. The piece features some wonderful intimate moments with the "oddities." Much of the "didactic" material is relatively light, and aesthetically delightful.
Eclipse was created in collaboration with Ed Emshwiller (1926– 1990), an experimental film/video artist. Mr. Emshwiller had also worked with Lejaren Hiller on his 1962 film, Time of the Heathen. Eclipse was commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and was premiered there in 1980 featuring 7-channel sound. The [End Page 102] tape part, produced at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) and UCSD, utilizes computer-altered human voices reciting texts by Jorge Luis Borges, Issa, James Joyce, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Herman Melville, and Wallace Stevens. The texts are recited by Carol Plantamura and Philip Larson. As a whole, much of the presentation of the voice functions somewhat as a study in spatialization through reverberation. The commonality of the music and the video is the alteration of human material through electronic means.
Dawnings, the first section of Eclipse, begins with long, drawnout, harmonious sounds and slowly-moving, minimalistic, white line-based...