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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

John BISCHOFF (b.1949)
Audio Combine (2009) [12:53]
Sidewalk Chatter (2010) [12:32]
Local Color (2004) [11:47]
Decay Trace (2006) [11:46]
Surface Effect (2011) [11:00]
rec. 5 January 2010 and 2 May 2011, Littlefield Concert Hall, Mills College, Oakland, California.
NEW WORLD RECORDS 80727-2 [60:00]

Experience Classicsonline

John Bischoff is not a name you are likely to have come across a great deal in the U.K. or indeed in general. This is the only currently available solo commercial release of his music that I can find. He is perhaps best known as a founding member in 1978 of the League of Automatic Music Composers, which is considered the first ever ‘Computer Network Band’. He is active in the San Francisco Bay area new music scene, has toured in Europe and is a keen educator at Mills College and elsewhere.
The informative text for this release has a good deal of background build-up, of which the composer’s own quote is perhaps the best summary, describing his work as “a music built from the intrinsic features of the electronic medium at hand: high definition noise components, tonal edges, digital shading, and non-linear motion, all evolving in the variable context of live performance.” There is certainly plenty to say about associations and related art forms, and the Audio Combine title track is as good an example as any. Combine harvesters no doubt have quite specific musical associations for UK readers of a certain generation but the booklet gives us a different key, approaching the relationship of music to machinery “as a reduction, in this case of the three actions that the machine completes: reaping, threshing and winnowing. [They] share a technique of collapsing input, activity and result into a single operation, one that displays precision, concision, and natural flow in equal measure.”
A first impression gives a sense of utmost refinement, transparency, even of fragility in the kinds of sounds Bischoff favours in his palette. Amplified or manipulated sounds, computer generated signals and electronic sources are used, creating pieces which, depending on your attitude, will give you either the ultimate in ‘squeaky gate’ nonsense, or fascinating sonic environments through which one can roam like a walk through an abstract sound-park. There is plenty of fresh air in the park, by which I mean silence around the notes and noises - indeed, the canvas from which Bischoff’s shapes often emerge is a kind of ever-present stillness. He works with rhythm to a certain extent, but offers no real sense of beat or tempo to pin us to any conventional sense of speed. Each track has its own sonic palette and sense of atmosphere, but each give a sense of being related by means of technique in terms of construction and performance. Extended bell-like sounds are always a favourite of mine, so Local Color is one of the pieces which communicated most -forming a kind of garden of sounds in which movement both slowly undulating and brightly sparkling is allowed to develop. Perhaps it is also the sense of tonality in the held notes of this piece which attract.
These pieces are all recorded in a concert hall ambience, and give the impression of live performance. In that sense they are not as ‘dry’ as some direct-to-disc transfers of electronic music. Decay Trace has some interesting nuances, with pre-recorded cluster samples and other effects popping out of the silence to provide strange visual clues and shifts of perspective. Surface Effect and Sidewalk Chatter both generate their sounds “from interactions between an analogue oscillator circuit and a computer running sound generators.” These do the least for me, with an acute abstraction of musical material being generated by even more abstract and often merely annoying sources of noise. I’ve sat in darkened rooms and heard this kind of thing plenty of times, and never in my entire life has anyone from the audience come away saying ‘wow’ with a sense of life-enhanced awe.
If you like your art as abstract as it comes, and your electronic music to be ‘hands-on’ and untouchable in equal measure, then this may well be the CD for you. If you have the chance, give it a listen - the New World Records site provides samples. You’ll know within about 20 seconds if it’s your bag.
Dominy Clements
























































































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