1960s-born American composer Scott Miller wears the critical
epithet "not for the faint-hearted listener" as a badge of honour
- it is quoted both on his website
and in the miniature biography included with this new CD. The
merest of toes dipped into the ethane/methane waters of Anterior/Interior
instantly confirms the validity of that quotation - this is
music, but not as most people know it.
In fairness, a good deal of what is heard here is the result
of improvisation, both controlled and free. That said, the combination
of Carla Rees's eerie quartertone-sounding flute and Miller's
unearthly digital sound-farragoes makes for a decidedly alien
experience. It will be appreciated only by those who enjoy the
starkest of aural challenges.
Miller's titles, inasmuch as they give anything away, seem to
flirt with randomness, reflected in turn in his music: Beauty
is Eternity Gazing in a Mirror, for example, sounds more
like an assemblage of extracts from the soundtrack from a 1950s
'War of the Worlds' kind of film. The title Seriously, This
is a Commitment verges on the pretentious, but perhaps it
is a warning: that the listener needs to be seriously committed
to the cause of new music to get through its thirteen minutes
of strident flute noises and electronic shenanigans laid over
frankly wearisome electro-pop rhythms. Yet this music is 'new'
only in the sense that it was composed last year, not in the
sense that it has anything original to say. It is hard to guess
what Miller had in mind with this mélange of a piece.
Similarly, it would be nice to know if Omaggio a 1961
really is a homage, and if so, to what - there are no clues
in the music. Or are there? Yuri Gagarin's space flight? How
difficult not to imagine other worlds listening to Miller's
music! In fact the tribute is to Luciano Berio's electroacoustic
experimentalism, according to Miller's website. Berio fans may
lap this up, but most will find the constant digital buzzing
The remaining items have more going for them. In Bending
Reed, creepy wind-like sounds swirl slowly and atmospherically
across a barren landscape. Haiku, Interrupted is another
work with an inscrutable title, bolstered here by a barrage
of mysterious sounds that occasionally have a Far-Eastern flavour.
Over the last two minutes, a repeated motif fades away to the
faintest of sounds and finally to silence. What does it all
mean? Miller's website has a crack of sorts at an explanation:
the work is "an exploration of five restrained - yet powerful
- gestures carried away by the environment they have themselves
created, in the absence of other stimuli."
Flautist extraordinaire Carla Rees seems immune to whatever
sounds or rhythms Miller programmes his gadgetry to yield up.
Perhaps she recorded her flute parts separately. However she
did it, she constantly amazes not only with her sheer concentration
and stamina, but with the arsenal of techniques she draws on
to produce the panoply of sounds - by no means always musical
ones - that Miller requires.
Rees was in the news last year when her flat was burnt down
- pet cats, music library and valuable collection of flutes
included - by hooligans in the London riots. A local musical
instrument business set up a collection fund for her here,
enabling her to replace at least one of her flutes. This CD
is a sign that things are looking up again for her and for Rarescale,
the multi-faceted organisation she founded a decade ago. All
three previous releases on its record label (in 2008) were recorded
by the Rarescale Ensemble, which primarily promotes new repertoire
for the alto and bass flutes. Whether or not Rees will achieve
success in that regard with this recording of Scott Miller's
works is debatable, but her own contribution to this programme
is nigh on irreproachable.
The present recording consists of course of heavily mixed music,
and as such benefits from outstanding sound quality. The CD
comes in a bare-bones digipak. So much so, in fact, that nowhere
does it even make it totally clear that Miller is the composer
of these works! There is no booklet - merely a scant dozen lines
of biographical information printed straight onto the inside
cover. No information whatsoever is provided about the music,
which is a pity - these are complex items about which the listener
is unlikely to find much even on the internet.
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