It is this writer’s opinion that the category “electro-acoustic” carries such a wide range of connotations that it is of limited use to a listener. This album is so characterized and here simply means that both electronics and acoustic instruments are used. Even the concept of electronic music is difficult since such a designation. Playlists on Spotify and iTunes usually points the listener to a form of pop/dance music if you search for electronic. Further complicating things (and I think this is at least in part the point here) the electronics here include fixed media (electronics which does what it is programmed to do and does not interact with the performers or simply plays alone) and robotic electronics as well as electronics which interacts with the performer. You will have to check the composer’s web page for more information on what exactly the “robotic” media are.
This is cutting edge in the sense that it is experimenting with new media in combination with more traditional media (and simple electronics is now “traditional media” having been superseded by the new fangled). The actual sound of this music seems to inhabit a rather spare sound world akin perhaps to that of late Morton Feldman but with more brevity. These pieces last from 1.5-10 minutes on average and demand some concentration on the part of the listener. Think maybe a cross between Feldman, Webern and say Subotnick.
Now one could conceivably play this music at a low volume in the manner of so-called “ambient” music. There are not many dynamic changes here to take you away from that sort of reverie. But that does not really seem to be the composer’s intention. These are concentrated little essays, each seeming to explore the parameters of its context, fixed media, live instruments, robotic media, and combinations of these.
Steven Kemper is a new name to this writer. His education and wide interests are available on his web site. While he has an impressive bibliography with cutting edge research interests in music and sound this appears to be his first CD.
There are 15 tracks which comprise 5 works. Mythical Spaces (2010) is for percussion with fixed media in 5 separate movements. Breath (2015) is for fixed media alone in one movement. Lament (2015) is also in one movement and is scored for flute with interactive media.
The longest single movement comprises In Illo Tempore (2012 rev 2017) is scored for saxophone, bassoon, AMI (automated monochord instrument), and CARI (cylindrical aerophone robotic instrument). It clocks in at 7:48.
Last but not least is The Seven Stars (2012) for amplified prepared piano in 7 movements.
Live performers include Mark Truesdell, percussion; Wayla Chambo, flute; David Wegenlaupt, saxophone, Dana Jessen, bassoon, and Aurie Hsu, prepared piano.
This is music which requires some serious concentration from the listener. Hearing/seeing this live might provide some additional aspects due to these strange electronic/robotic instruments but the point here seems to be one of an inner voyage which, if you focus you listening energy, transports you into this composer’s imaginary spaces. Whether you will enjoy this or not is difficult to say but it is certainly worth the effort.