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Dexter MORRILL (b.1938)
Music for Stanford

Getz Variations, for tenor saxophone and tape1 (1984) [19:39]
Sea Songs, for soprano, with radio baton, electronics and tape2 (1995) [11:32]
Salzburg Variations, for celletto, electronics and tape3 (1994) [10:48]
Quartet, for violin, cello and tape4 (1985) [16:15]
Chowning, computer generated tape5 (1973) [2:56]
Stan Getz (tenor saxophone)1, Maureen Chowning (soprano)2, Chris Chafe (celletto)3, Helmut Braunlich (violin)4, Ignacio Alcover (cello)4
Recorded Frost Ampitheatre, Stanford University, U.S.A., July 19, 19841; Wellin Hall, Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y., U.S.A., 19962; Colgate University Chapel, U.S.A., 19963; Centre for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, Stanford University, 19914; Colgate university Computer Music Studio, 19735
CENTAUR CRC 2732 [61:18]

This is a collection of pieces composed by Dexter Morrill, between 1973-1995, in connection with Stanford University and its Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. Since 1971 Morrill has been Director of the Computer Music Studio at Colgate University.

Getz Variations was written for the great Jazz tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and this recording of the piece was made at an open-air concert. As well as his considerable experience in the field of computer-generated music, it should be mentioned that as a young man Morrill studied at the Lennox School of Jazz (where his teachers included Dizzy Gillespie and William Russo) and is also the author of A Guide to the Big Band Recordings of Woody Herman 1936-1987 (1990). He is, thus, well fitted to attempt a marriage between computer music and jazz. The Getz Variations are in four movements. Throughout Getz improvises against a setting devised by Morrill; in performance Getz’s improvisations were heard through the same speakers as the accompaniment. In the first movement (‘Echoes’) the accompaniment consists both of ‘sampled’ recordings by Getz himself and new computer sounds; in the second – on which Getz’s playing is particularly impressive – the accompaniment is made up of computer generated bass and percussion and an additional electronic instrumental line. The third movement (‘The Lady from Portola’) alludes to the period of Getz’s greatest commercial success, as a player of the bossa nova during the 1960s – ‘The Lady from Portola’ is clearly a relation of ‘The Girl from Ipanema’. In the last movement (‘Windows’) Getz improvises – very interestingly - against fragments of one of his most famous solos, from 1946, on ‘Summer Sequence’ with Woody Herman. Getz’s improvisations are the most engaging features of these Getz Variations, though Morrill certainly deserves the credit for preparing the accompaniments which stimulated them.

Sea Songs contains settings of texts by Ezra Pound (twice), Aga Shahid Ali and Yvor Winters. The performances by Margaret Chowning are accompanied by sounds synthesised by Morrill. Chowning’s voice is changed by the so-called Radio Baton, held in the soprano’s hand as she sings, which transmits her voice to a microphone and a processor. Merrill’s melodies are largely tonal, even traditional, but the sound has a slightly unfocused, shimmering sound – by no means unfitting for texts which speak of the "thin glitter of water", "the shallow eddying fluid" and the "blue water dusky".

In Salzburg Variations a ‘live’ instrumentalist plays the celletto (a kind of electronic cello, invented by Chris Chafe in the 1990s, see link), Morrill adds a layer of sound by selecting – in real time - from some of the sounds produced by the MIDI controls on the celletto and both are heard against a pre-recorded computer background by Morrill. The results include some interesting and striking passages, but come close to outstaying their welcome.

Quartet uses two live musicians (a violinist and cellist) and replaces the second violin and viola of the orthodox quartet by two loudspeakers through which pre-recorded computer materials by Morrill are heard. The interplay of voices - but not the actual sounds – mimics the conversation of a traditional quartet and are suggestive of ways in which the computer might contribute to chamber music. I found this the most thought-provoking of the pieces on the CD.

Chowning is an early piece, quasi-percussive. While of interest as a document in the history of computers and music, it doesn’t have much to offer, I’d guess, that is likely to command repeated listenings.

For those whose minds are not closed against the use of computers this will surely be a quietly interesting disc, uneven in realised achievement but almost always interesting and genuinely experimental in an intelligent fashion. Getz Variations and Quartet – at least – are interesting and satisfying pieces.

Glyn Pursglove

 

 



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