Scott MILLER (with Carla REES )
Devices and Desires
Anterior/Interior (2011) [8:10]
Beauty is Eternity Gazing in a Mirror (2011) [9:26]
Omaggio a 1961 (2009) [11:13]
Bending Reed (2011) [6:37]
Seriously, This is a Commitment (2011) [13:00]
Haiku, Interrupted (2009) [7:30]
Carla Rees (quarter tone C flute)
Scott Miller (electronics)
rec. Royal College of Music, London, 24 November 2011. DDD

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 hard work.
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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Rees constantly amazes with her arsenal of techniques, sheer concentration and stamina.