ANNE LA BERGE – Speak

New World

One thing’s for sure: Anne La Berge’s music does not beg for immediate love. The Amsterdam-based Californian composer explicits visions through a unique compound of advanced technique, mathematical rationality and sensible investigation of issues that elsewhere would probably go unnoticed. For example “800 Speakers”, closing track of this brilliant collection, is an intelligently touching account of how speakers have always been a fundamental part of her growth and experimentations. Similarly to many other pieces by La Berge, it makes the most of the basic components – text, live performance on the flute and computerized environments – upon which the bulk of her opus is focused.

Classically trained and gifted with a “ferocious and far-reaching virtuosity”, La Berge defies a classification in the traditional roles of avantgarde art, preferring instead to concentrate on what she calls “guided improvisations” carried out across a wide gamut of interactive settings. The use of Max/MSP is essential throughout, the software furnishing the players with not exactly predictable incidents to which they respond with intuition and expertise. Fragments of texts are utilized for additional levels of interaction: in “Drive”, an imaginary interview with Mary Anderson (first deviser of the windscreen wiper) gets intertwined with inhospitable landscapes where the flute is indeed, in Bob Gilmore’s words, “closer to punk guitar styles than to anything from the classical wind tradition”. “Away” inserts a poem about the experience of separation within a microtonal tapestry of synthesized pitches; the work was originally commissioned for Stephen Altoft’s 19-tone trumpet, and La Berge herself has been involved in the development of the quarter-tone flute that she frequently uses. In “ur_DU” a letter by Marie Curie to a friend is mingled with sounds that describe rather perfectly the radioactive properties of uranium, the resulting concoction sounding “impenetrably human”. The record’s best episode “Brokenheart” is almost entirely performed – in masterful fashion – by Cor Fuhler (a longtime creative partner of La Berge), who generates a small universe of drones, zither-like plinks and electrically bowed strings inside a piano, fitting the whole around mechanical emissions, sinetones and a spoken description of the broken heart syndrome.

Seriousness is rapidly becoming a rare commodity, but here’s the vivid evidence of a bright mind’s refusal to comply to several of today’s unwritten rules. An excellent release, very highly recommended.

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