Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Favorite electrified flute recordings

I still consider myself very much a student in the world of electro-acoustic flute, and I can't get enough of these inspiring performers!

In the Loop
© 2018, UTA Records

In the Loop features original compositions by the dynamic WoodWired (Hannah Leffler, flute, Cheyenne Cruz, bass clarinet, and electronics), plus a bonus reworking of Piazolla’s Libertango. The group stretches the unlikely pairing of C flute and bass clarinet into multiple soundscapes by employing live looping (the recording and playback of a piece of music in real-time) and a great diversity of pre-recorded electronic sounds for a refreshingly unique sound in endlessly fascinating compositions.

The first track, Bare, utilizes only acoustical sounds, vocal percussion, and loops to create an energizing rhythmical groove. Bulgama, which was he group’s first original composition, employs an almost lounge-like electronic background underneath live performance and loops. There is a multi-movement composition inspired by Afghani activist Malala Yousafzai as well as a sassy blues tune (The 101) celebrating the open road. The group’s arrangement of Libertango is a no-holds-barred display of all their tricks, from varied, expert playing on their instruments to tango-enhancing loops that give a fresh take on this standard. In succinctly written program notes, the background and inspiration for each piece is explained.

I have seen WoodWired perform live, and I was enthralled by their showmanship, technological savvy, creativity, and confidence on stage. They were enchanting from start to end, and this album beautifully captures what I saw and heard that day on stage. In the Loop is a great introduction to this important young chamber group; I can’t wait to hear what they do next.

Areon Flutes
© 2016 Innova Music

Thrive is Areon Flutes’ third album together.  The eclectic program features music commissioned by the group from Elaine Lillios (professor at Bowling Green State University), composer/bass clarinetist/shakuhachi player Cornelius Boots, and Mike Sempert, best known as the songwriter and frontman of the Bay Area band Birds & Batteries.

Elaine Lillios’s Summer Sketches is the winner of Areon’s 2014 International Composition Competition. Written in two movements, it catalogs sounds and movements familiar in the summer: “Skating on Discs of Light” begins with an ambling alto flute solo which is eventually joined by two more altos in dense, swirling sounds, creating a kind of hide-and-seek effect. The second movement, “Dry Wind”, is a very clever evocation of the sounds of insect buzzing about on piccolo, C flute, and alto, and yes, those dry, whistling winds that happen at some point in every climate.  This movement also employs a great deal of beat boxing, sing-and-play, pizzicato articulations and other extended techniques to great effect.

Cornelius Boots’s Chthonic Flute Suite continues to explore the different timbres of the entire flute family.  The first movement, “Root of Ether”, starts with a philosophical, world-weary bass flute solo which turns jazzy and almost maniacal, as if being chased. In the third movement, “Enantiodromia”, all three players are back in on C flute weaving in and out of each other’s sounds and taking a turn at leading the counterpoint. The end evolves into a joyful, bluesy dance and then abruptly melts back into something akin to the Gregorian chant of the beginning. Finally, “Void of Day” opens on a simple panpipe tune that evokes ancient folk music and remains modal as melodies are passed around on flute and alto flute.

Like Chthonic Flute Suite, Uncanny Valley by Mike Sempert was also commissioned by Areon Flutes. True to his musical style, it combines acoustical flutes with electronic sounds to create a kind of meditative, exploratory mood similar to atmospheric “dream pop” bands like Beach House and Deerhunter.

Flutists Jill Heinke, Kassey Plaha, and Sasha Launer who comprise Areon Flutes are truly masters of the instruments, and of making excellent chamber music together.  Each performer shines for their technical ability as well as musical expressiveness, and they weave seamlessly in and out of each other’s sounds in that way we all strive for when playing in small ensembles. Thrive is a fun exploration of new music in varied styles for flute trio, a great display of virtuosity for all three performers, and an apt description of Areon Flutes’ presence on the new music/chamber music scene.

Jennifer Borkowski, flute and electronics
© 2015 Ravello Records

Vienna-based (American born) flutist Jennifer Borkowski has released her first solo album, Composed, featuring a varied mix of original compositions, contemporary classics, and a couple of traditional works for solo flute. The resultant program creates an intriguing framework for each piece.

According to the liner notes, the inspiration for Borkowski’s compositions, “The Calm Yet Constant Change Along the Shoreline” and “Still”, was a change in scenery.  After living long-term in Vienna, she spent four years living along the shore in New England. The sounds of the ocean and the sense of wide-open space are clearly present in both pieces.  “The Calm Yet Constant Change Along the Shoreline”, for flute and electronics, is on a layered loop and delay electric guitar pedal. The acoustic flute line weaves in and out of this ambient atmosphere like the ebb and flow of the shoreline. “Still”, also for flute and electronics, evokes a similar style, with the electronic background on a six-second delay. It is her first recorded improvisation.

Two pieces by Shirish Korde are also presented here.  Borkowski adapts his “Anusvara”, originally for bass and alto flute and electronics, to be played entirely on C flute. It is rendered beautifully and Borkowski’s version is a pleasure to hear. She also performs his classic “Tenderness of Cranes”, a tour de force for solo flute which employs a number of extended techniques to simulate the sound of the Japanese shakuhachi’ it has been long considered a daunting but effective work from the early 1990s. It is fitting, since Borkowski has published extensively on the pedagogy of extended techniques repertoire, that she renders the piece extremely well; it is both accurate and moving, and I find her performance overall to be laudable.

Borkowski is a very thoughtful, deliberate performer on this album.  Even her programming is at once unique and very carefully considered. She displays grace, a beautiful sense of line, and utter control throughout this fascinating collection of pieces, and she most certainly achieves her stated aim to provide a “breath of fresh air”.