Village Voice Column with Listening Examples

In my Village Voice column this week, I review the Sequitur ensemble playing four works, two of which I possess recordings of. And so, in an experiment aimed at making music criticism more accessible and relevant, which I have long wanted to try out, I temporarily post those two works so, having read the article, you may then listen to them if you like:

Eve Beglarian: Creating the World

Bunita Marcus: Adam and Eve

Both pieces are also posted on Postclassic Radio as noted in the article, but rather than tune in and wait several hours for them, you may want to derive more immediate gratification.

In addition, new-music maven and entrepreneur Herb Levy sent some comments in response to my minor dissatisfaction with Sequitur’s sound production. I suspected something like what he says, but he knows more than I do about the technical end:

Reading your article about the Sequitur Ensemble made me think about
what makes bands like those led by Glass & Dresher work & it’s more
than (or really I think, other than) the instrumental doubling you
cite.

Dresher tour
with a sound technician who knows exactly what the composer wants the
ensemble to sound like. Without knowing any of the people involved,
it’s likely that the sound technician for the Sequitur concert was
less experienced with sound reinforcement and/or recording of
instruments that are more often amplified or just didn’t hear the
disparity of the sound sources as presenting a problem.

With bands like Glass’s & Dresher’s, nearly everything you hear,
whether the original source is acoustic or electronic, comes from the
same set of speakers, just as it does in the recording of the
Beglarian piece (or any recording) you’d heard before the concert.
Because the sound all comes from one source, whatever signal
processing and other coloration the sound system may have is applied
to all the instruments, and the ensemble sound is more unified.

In the picture running with the Voice article, it looks like the
acoustic instruments are amplified with overheard boom
microphones. Letting all that air & room sound into the mix instead
of using close miking is going to give the acoustic
instruments a more distant sound than the direct input of the
electric instruments. By enabling the audience to hear the strictly
acoustic sound of the acoustic instrument, as well as the mix of
amplified sounds, the acoustic instruments retain more of their
separate character. The psycho-acoustics of this also include the
fact that the acoustic sounds are perceived as coming from the
specific locations of the actual instruments, rather than through the
sound system.

In the Glass & Dresher ensembles, the acoustic instruments are
more closely miked (sometimes using contact mics or, in Paul’s band
at least, electric versions of some of the instruments) and little if
any of the sound of the acoustic instruments is heard outside of the
speakers, so the sounds blend more easily with those of the wholly
electric instruments.