UC San Diego's Department of Music

June 13, 2007

  Vanessa Tomlinson and Erik Griswold are among UCSD composers and performers featured on Sound Check Two, the Department of Music's new CD. Percussionist Tomlinson performs Griswold's "Hypnotic Strains." Both musicians earned graduate degrees in music at UCSD. Sound Check Two also includes original pieces by UCSD composers Brett Reed, Michael Theodore, and Harry Castle; plus works by famous modern composers Salvatore Sciarrino, Aldo Clementi, Edgard Varese, and Iannis Xenakis. The 8-song CD was curated by Miller Puckette, a professor specializing in music technology who has written revolutionary software for music recording. Puckette chose from among dozens of recordings made at department concerts in recent years. Below, he talks about the CD (for a free copy, click on the blue Sound Check Two image on this web page).

"I was looking for pieces that take instrumental techniques and compositional ideas beyond their natural limits. I knew there had to be a piece by Xenakis, because his entire body of music is concerned about structure first and possibility second. He has written scores that are virtually impossible to play. Harry Castle's piece consists of a pianist interacting with a computer, improvising with echoes of what he's just played. At times it sounds like there are eight hands on the piano when there are only two. Brett Reed's is one of my favorite pieces. There's a flute note that lasts about a minute, but it's actually two flutes taking the pitch off each other back and forth. The piece was written by a percussionist who had never composed anything before. Michael Theodore's "Hilbert's Caverns" is the first piece in which I've ever heard a drum glissando: you can make glissandi with kettle drums but it's much harder with snare drums. The Sciarrino piece opens with the sheer impossibility of a clarinet playing two melodies at once. Clementi uses a single figure, repeated again and again, slower and slower, which is a very strange thing to hear. I think it's the longest piece on the CD. You wouldn't want it to be the first piece, because you have to be ready for some serious listening. Varese's "Ionisation" was written for twelve percussionists, but Steve Schick re-scored it for six. We had to have one piece by Dr. X: Iannis Xenakis. His music has been a part of the program at UCSD for years. In "Hypnotic Strains," Erik latched onto a particular move that Vanessa is good at playing that doesn't sound playable. There's a clickety-clackety-bonk, a combination that she executes at superhuman speed. Every piece was recorded with an audience at a live performance. I'm a great believer in live performances. Performers feed on the energy and rise to the challenge of having only one shot to get it right. The CD is a good reflection of where the department is right now. We've always been a place for extremes. If someone wants to try something that goes farther in a direction than music has gone before, we welcome the idea."

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