Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Listening List: 3. Courtney Brown

The Listening List is a blog series in which I listen and critique two pieces by my composer friends. I was inspired by Rob McClure's similar series, "Music With Friends." For most pieces, I plan to listen twice, with scores where available, and jot down some initial thoughts. My intention is to force myself to engage more with my friends' music, not just to offer unsolicited feedback. After my first entry, I found that this blog will probably demonstrate me wrestling with my own thoughts and biases about music as much as it will review the work of contemporary composers.

Courtney Brown's website

6 years ago or so, Courtney and I met up with Justin Woo and did some electronic jams with the idea of starting an electroacoustic band of some sort. Life got in the way so nothing came of it. She's currently in Buenos Aires on a Fulbright scholarship and working toward her doctorate at Arizona State. Most of her recent work has been in installation and sound art, both of which I'm very into.

Rwar! A Study in Sonic Skulls (2011-2013)
with Sharif Razzaque (engineer)

Rawr! A Study in Sonic Skulls from Courtney Brown on Vimeo.

This video documents the construction of an instrument based on a dinosaur skull. It's an interesting idea to research, I think. Sound can really conjure the daily life of these ancient extinct creatures. I was also intrigued by the clip of a piece in which the skull player duets with a tubist and both make "mating calls." They are working on a second prototype of the skull now, and I'm looking forward to hearing it in action.


Rwar! A Study in Sonic Skulls @ 7 ate 9 from Courtney Brown on Vimeo.

This video shows the hadrosaur dinosaur instrument in practice. It seems mostly improvised, with computer playing back loops. The recording quality is not great, but you can still tell that the instrument has a primal, haunting quality. Would definitely like to hear a "studio" version sometime.

Telephone Tango (2011-12)

Telephone Tango - Laptop Orchestra of Arizona State - Nov. 19, 2012 from Courtney Brown on Vimeo.

This is a piece for laptop orchestra, a genre I've written and thought about quite a bit. Courtney doesn't use the laptops for sound processing; instead, the performers play percussive found objects, and the laptops are used to display dynamic scores and a visual metronome.

From what I gather, the leader plays an initial tango-derived rhythm, and variations are sent to each successive player. I appreciate the concept/process and have been continually intrigued by the possibilities of dynamic/generative scores. But I'm not sure I find this all that successful, mainly because the performance isn't that tight. I wonder how a percussion ensemble would fare. Variations seemed mostly additive or subtractive, and I wondered if there could be more augmentation, diminution, tempo changes, etc.

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