One of the UK’s best known Electroacoustic composers, Simon Emmerson
was Director of the Electroacoustic Music Studios at City University
in London for 28 years before taking up his current post as Professor
of Music, Technology and Innovation at Leicester’s De Montfort
University. Respected both as a composer and as an academic, his
music has a unique voice and a refreshing sense of ingenuity.
Pathways transports us into the
unusual realm of western instruments combined with Indian instruments
and live electronics. It may seem like an unlikely combination,
but the effect is fascinating. Starting simply, the music develops
organically, the sounds fusing to produce a new whole where
the boundaries are blurred between the instruments and the electronics.
The instruments retain their identities and in doing so give
a distinct colour to the overall
sound. The musical landscape he creates is unique and intoxicating,
combining traditional elements such as Raga with non-traditional
elements such as the live electronics. The work was commissioned
by Shiva Nova and first performed at the Almeida Theatre in
London in 1989.
Points Trilogy is a set of three works
which may be played separately or as a group. The first movement,
Points of Departure features harpsichordist Jane Chapman,
who gives an excellent performance here. The music feels as
though it is a modern day version of a Baroque toccata – rapid
but somewhat exotic arpeggios, ornaments and scalic figures
hypnotise us as they
slowly develop and gradually distort. Emmerson has once again
succeeded in maintaining the character of the instrument he
is writing for, while at the same time adding a new perspective
on its sound and musical possibilities. Points of Continuation
is a purely electroacoustic piece which uses sounds derived
from the instruments used in the outer two works of the trilogy,
the harpsichord and the kayagum (a Korean plucked instrument).
The piece is wholly engaging, forcing the listener to explore
the individual sounds within the overall soundscape, and passes
by quickly, changing perceptions of time. The final work in
the trilogy, Points of Return, features the kayagum,
a Korean string instrument with a beautifully sonorous tone.
Emmerson maintains his theme here, not replicating Korean music,
but instead incorporating characteristic elements of the instrumental
writing into his own musical language.
The final work on the disc is Time-Space,
a tranquil work for baroque flute, harpsichord and electronics.
Emmerson explores the sounds of these instruments together,
and the calm opening features multiphonics, air sounds and pitch
bends on the flute, heard against gentle tremolos on the harpsichord
and reverb and delay lines in the live electronic processing,
to create a tapestry of sound. The piece is in the form of variations,
with timbral changes moving through the work. The stillness
of the material creates a wonderful atmosphere and draws the
ear in to the exploration of sound.
This is a disc which is deeply satisfying to explore.
It encourages active listening and each subsequent hearing brings
out more details and sonorities. The pieces all seemed considerably
shorter than their true durations - for me, always a test of
well composed music! - and each had a strong identity of its
own. The music is varied but bound together by Emmerson’s intelligent
and imaginative compositional voice.