Music Reviews : New Electronic Works

Some composers mistake visual gimmickry and technological gadgetry for artistic substance. At Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions downtown on Friday evening, a passel of new electronic works received first hearings. The listener, alas, went home having heard little of real merit.

Take, for example, "Shredder" by Charles Buel. Though the program notes told us that the recorded sounds included scrambled chord progressions from Bach's music, instrumental, environmental and synthesized sounds, the effect was a repetitive barrage of characterless noise. Over this, Buel and Nicole Dillenberg read, from note cards, a number of real or made-up confessions which varied from innocuous to repulsive. And the pair performed such theatrical acts as chopping wood and attempting to ignite a dummy in a coffin. The work elicited some laughter, but hardly enough to call it a comedy piece.

Less grandiose but no less puerile were a set of works by Mark Wheaton, whose rock background and fluency with modern performance technology were evident. Unfortunately, these artistically sophomoric works relied on props and special effects to maintain interest.

Two improvisatory guitar works by James McAuley showed considerably more substance, but the digressive rambles exhibited little organizational unity. On the other hand, his "Booming Baby," for tape and megalyra (a six-foot-long zither), was a delight for anyone who enjoys the sound of a crying baby, amplified and distorted.

Not surprisingly, the work least reliant on novelty proved the most attractive. In the folk/New Age-style "Shuffling, Shivering," composer Elise Kermani sang her own ingenuous text over a relatively static electronic background and Harry Gilbert's sensitive cello playing. Engaging, too, was Kermani's "Spiral" in which computer-altered words accompanied Renee Tinnell's erotic dance movements.

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