Adventurous NWEAMO 2018 Festival Opens at San Diego State University

Audiences at a NWEAMO concert expect sonic surprises rather than staid sonatas, and Friday’s opening program of the 2018 new music festival did not disappoint on that account. Curated by NWEAMO (New West Electro-Acoustic Music Organization) founder Joseph Waters, this concert offered diverse sonic visions of seven composers working in different ways with computer generated sound.

Joseph Waters at an earlier NWEAMO Festival [photo (c.) C. Michaels]

With trumpeter Tim Winters, composer Bob Kostlan charted the most familiar waters, creating an electronic jazz combo pulsed with strong, percussive rhythms to accompany Winters’ traditionally shaped themes. Winter wisely chose an edgy, Mariachi-tinged trumpet timbre to cut through the room-flooding blanket of electronic sound, although his trumpet line was fed into the digital mix. This duo played two works, “On Campus” and “The Freshest Thing in Town,” although the latter title would have made its point anywhere save at a NWEAMO Festival concert.

Benjamin Sabey fused sound effects such as whistling wind and sirens into his Moog generated “The Wine-Dark Sea” while his pianist cohort Nick Bacchetto delivered eerie, unpredictable clusters from alternate ends of the keyboard. When Bacchetto took the compositional reins in “Dissolutions,” the piano took the dominant role, creating a dark intermezzo full of grand crescendos piercing the subdued electronic haze.

Gregory Walker gave humor a few moments of stage time with his “Frito Bandito on the Moon” composition for electric guitar, alto saxophone and video collage. From Walker’s guitar came a frenzy of loud, garish chords decorated with grunge to accompany sax virtuoso Todd Rewoldt’s angular, irregular lines. On the screen, clips of NASA’s planting an American flag on the moon were interspersed with cartoon depictions of the fictional character named in the work’s title.

Giving an international edge to the festival program, Korean composer Jeonghyeon Joo played the traditional Korean haegeum, a two-stringed bowed instrument similar to the Chinese erhu, in her “Night in a Ghost Metropolis.” The haunting, nasal timbre of the haegeum brought to mind the vocal color prized by the singers in traditional Chinese opera. Joo’s rhapsodic solo line easily dominated her airy, pointillist digital background.

“Echoes of you Far Away,” Victoria Gibson’s homage to the late avant-garde composer Pauline Oliveros, synthsized Gibson’s voice and guitar playing in real time creating a dreamy, mesmerizing sonic cloud. Her vocal lines and the guitar inhabited different tonal spheres, but that may have been intentional.

The sole completely electronic work on the program, Alexander Sigman’s “flow,” used as a source the John Dowland lute song “Flow My Tears,” although I could not discern anything resembling a lute song in Sigman’s pulsing waves of sound that alternated with the impression of muffled voices conversing in a distant crowd. I thought I heard the faint, altered tones of a koto, but I may have read that into my interpretation based on the fact that the composer teaches music in Kofu, Japan.

This concert given on April 27, 2018, was presented by the NWEAMO 2018 Festival in San Diego State University’s Smith Recital Hall. The festival continues with afternoon concerts on April 28 at the SDSU Downtown Gallery and April 29 in Smith Recital Hall on the SDSU campus.

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