Douglas LILBURN (1915-2001)
Complete electro-acoustic works
ATOLL ACD404 [3 CDs: 67.07 + 74.13 + 73.24; DVD: 54.48]
Dominy Clements, in a comprehensive review of this set for this site some months back, commented that those allergic to electronic music may not find themselves converted through these pieces.” I have to confess myself unconvinced and that's after several attempts to come to terms with the discs,. But I have much enjoyed Lilburn’s symphonies and his other more conventional concert music, and the same composer is responsible for these pioneering adventures in the field of electronic music, so I have to ask myself why Lilburn’s extensive exploration in this area does not attract me to the same degree.

In the first place, I think this arises from the electronic means that Lilburn actually had at his disposal during the 1960s and 1970s. Although, as Dominy Clements observed, the original tapes have clearly been superbly and lovingly re-mastered for this release, the actual sound remains obstinately of its period with effects that strike me as very much of their period. Nowadays with digital synthesisers we expect much more of a sense of adventure in electronic sound, but I don’t really feel that Lilburn can have been overly satisfied with the results he was able to obtain with tape at this period. He continued to compose exclusively for electronics during this period, so it may well be that he himself was seeking something more than the technology of the age could furnish.

In the second place, the sheer sense of melody that Lilburn so amply displayed in his earlier period is largely missing here. There is plenty of atmosphere, but the thematic content is hard to discern. The earlier works are more immediately approachable in this respect – Poem in time of war [CD2, track 2], written at the time of Vietnam, packs plenty of emotional punch – but by the time we reach the late Soundscape with Lake and River [CD2, track 1] the sense of atmosphere dominates all. Incidentally, in an encyclopaedic survey such as this, it would perhaps have been better if the tracks had been placed in chronological order, which would have helped the listener to see where the composer was heading over the years.

Dominy Clements has given a comprehensive overview of the music itself in his survey, and I need not repeat his descriptions here. There are some nice touches of humour – as in God save [CD3, track 1] – and the DVD which is provided with the set helps enormously to provide some explanations about Lilburn’s intentions and purposes. The comprehensive nature of this set is self-recommending, and the booklet notes by Ross Harris extending over sixteen pages are supplemented by an article by the composer himself (a further seven pages) and some period photographs which serve to demonstrate how primitive some of the equipment was, with Lilburn himself sitting on the floor of a barn with a couple of reel-to-reel tape decks in the background. Perhaps we should be surprised at the results he obtained, rather than criticising their technical limitations.

The availability of these discs is of course essential listening for anybody who wants to follow Lilburn’s development from his initial beginnings as a pupil of Vaughan Williams, but as Dominy Clements observed listeners familiar with his earlier music “should be prepared to enter entirely new worlds of sound”. As I have indicated, the presentation could not be bettered, and the performances themselves drawn largely from Lilburn’s own collection clearly reflect exactly what the composer wanted. Dominy Clements remarked upon a degree of tape hiss, but I found this entirely acceptable. However the overall impression left upon this listener was, I am afraid, one of fascination rather than whole-hearted engagement. Those who have enjoyed Lilburn’s earlier concert music will nevertheless find plenty to interest them here.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Previous review: Dominy Clements
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CD 1
Three Inscapes (1972) [12.04]
Sounds and Distances (1975) [9.55]
Carousel (1976) [10.42]
Winterset (1976) [9.49]
Triptych (1977) [10.39]
Of Time and Nostalgia (1977) [10.48]
Cicadas, Oscillators and Treefrogs [2.33]
CD 2
Soundscape with Lake and River (1979) [11.01]
Poem in Time of War (1967) [15.01]
Dance Sequence-Expo 70 (1970) [10.52]
Summer Voices (1969) [6.32]
Five Toronto Pieces (1969) [18:48]
Toronto Tailfeather (1969) [1.08]
Fragments of a Poem (1966) [6.48]
Study from One Note (1967) [4.03]
CD 3
God Save (1977) [1.09]
The Return (1965) [17.03]
Three Studies for Gustav Ciamaga (1969) [9.07]
Welcome Stranger (1974) [26.25]
Five Toronto Pieces (1963) [19:40]
Three Film Excerpts [6.20]
Glass Music (audio with still photos) [6.25]
Lines and Distances (1975) (audio only) [16.08]
Sounds and Distances (1975) (audio only) [10.10]
Radio interview by Jack Body (c.1972) (audio only) [15.45]