Although algorithms reveal an unreliable taste more often than not, the clever use of software for non-linear composition can still provide us with absorbing matters. If music thus conceived is entrusted to sympathetic performers, it does acquire impermanent qualities which prevent it from sounding unanimated. In that regard, Kenneth Kirschner and Joseph Branciforte’s From The Machine: Vol.1 is quite promising. The two pieces of the LP, evidently different in textural grain and dynamics, were both derived from a bare minimum of computer-processed source material.
Born as an electronic work, Kirschner’s “April 20, 2015” was originally deprived of metric traits. Subsequently converted into a “traditional” score by Branciforte, this version was recorded by pianist Jade Conlee with cellists Mariel Roberts and Meaghan Burke. Brief chamber-hued segments are caught by the ears just as the eye would pick scattered raindrops rippling a puddle illuminated by a streetlamp. Superimposed sets of minimalist linearity create a logical hiatus, enhancing the will to remain secluded in our own being. Transitory reiterations act as a guideline amidst shifting psychological dimensions. Fleeting silences further increase the ability of this music to elicit constructive reflection, rather than indulge in non-thinking vacuousness. Melodic intuitions lasting a few seconds imply openings to a serenity whose potential remains nevertheless unexpressed.
Devised through Max/MSP, Branciforte’s “0123” exploits a four-note chromatic cluster. Its entire set of pitch combinations is here rendered by violinist Tom Chiu, violist Wendy Richman, cellist Christopher Gross and double-bassist Greg Chudzik. The mathematical approach, theoretically reminiscent of Tom Johnson’s The Chord Catalogue, translates into dissonant drones of variable duration. They express a dramatic solemnity, substantiated by the pulsation of the adjacent partials inside the chords. The vibratory principles may be vaguely linkable to the theories of Niblock, Lucier and Amacher, yet the well-discernible harmonic changes place the whole in a category of its own. The brain reacts to the blend by trying to find fundamental frequencies to cling to; however, the privilege is systematically rejected. Compared to Kirschner’s side, Branciforte’s is incontestably more severe. It leaves no room for anything except an aural reality as far removed from the archaic concept of “consonance” as to make that faded word seem ridiculous by now.
Across several listens, this writer remained focused on the resonance generated by the instrumental intersections, not necessarily keeping the compositional methods in mind as a primary concern. Even if these experiments were powered by generative systems and indeterminacy, the acoustic outcome does not convey a sense of detachment. By listening intently, one learns not to confuse a solvable problem with a lack of charm. Strength and grace are right there, waiting to be distilled.