Pheromone review in Fanfare
This article originally appeared in Issue 40:2 (Nov/Dec 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.
PHEROMONE • Meerenai Shim (fl); 1Jacob Abela (pn) • AEROCADE 001 (44:01)
FIELDSTEEL Fractus III: Aerophoneme. G. C. BROWN Huge Blank Canvas Neck Tattoo. O’HALLORAN 1Pencilled Wings. LAUSTSEN 60.8%. SCHANKLER 1Pheromone. M. J. PAYNE Étude for Contrabass Flute and TI83+ Calculator
Playing any new music is a challenge, and while the goal seems obvious, playing it well is a rarer accomplishment than might be imagined. Just listen to Webern conducting Berg’s Violin Concerto to hear the way art and intellect combine to the best effect. Flutist Meerenai Shim has the chops and the heart to do these recently composed pieces full justice, and this inaugural release on her own Aerocade label is the proverbial proof of the pudding.
The only piece not composed in 2014 is Eli Fieldsteel’s helter-skelter Fractus III: Aerophoneme, obviously the third installment of a series from which I have only heard the first, for trumpet and supercollider. The present work, for flute and live electronic sound, is a whiplash-inducing journey through various musical topoi, and, as with Jimi Hendrix’s solo on Machine Gun, forces the flutist to use many of the techniques in her fully developed vocabulary. As with the best pieces of this type, the live electronics component plunges the flute into some sort of gradually emerging hyper-reality, first creating environments for it that morph in size and perspective, using delay so that Shim’s playing interacts contrapuntally with itself before breathily trilled fragments of it become fodder for more advanced processing. Though quite intense, there is plenty of subtlety, such as the beats that emerge and disappear at key moments, perhaps a slyly nuanced nod to what can broadly, and somewhat stupidly, be called Electronic Dance Music. It’s the longest piece on the disc and stands in direct contrast with Matthew Joseph Payne’s absolutely adorable Étude for Contrabass Flute and TI83+ Calculator, which sounds like what I’d imagine Throbbing Gristle’s jazz-funk greats would sound like if they had jazz solos over them. It’s a neat little trip back to 1980 or thereabouts, just a tinge of industriality informing that last-gasp analogue synthesizer innocence, Shim’s contrabass flute sometimes almost unrecognizable but always complementary.
The only other musician, in the strictly traditional sense, is pianist Jacob Abela, and his contributions to the title piece are stunning. Again making use of that catch-all word “electronics” to describe the instrumentation, composer Isaac Schankler has fashioned a piece verging on neo-Romanticism but brimming with the vital fragmentation and reordering of sonic components pioneered by Karlheinz Stockhausen and İlhan Mimaroğlu and used by so many these days. No mere rehashing, Pheromone is a beautiful, meditative and occasionally harrowing repetition-driven look at implication, from the moment-to-moment situation of individual pitch and timbre to the ways harmonies may or may not resolve.
The whole disc may also be seen that way, and while I have chosen a few pieces for discussion, the entire program is excellent and well-sequenced. This is certainly an auspicious label debut. Marc Medwin