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Computer Music, Part 2

Nick Catalano By

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Last month we initiated an exploration into the world of non-traditional electronic musical "instruments," by referencing experiments that Wallace Roney had undertaken by including a turntablist in his band a few years ago. It was merely one example of the burgeoning use of the turntable in music, and I noted the interest it had for me when writing about the band one evening at Joe's Pub, in New York City.

Use of the turntable was a useful point of departure for further exploration, this time into the realms of computer music. I alluded to laptopper Sam Pluta—a professor of computer music at The Manhattan School of Music and a performer at the computer. In recordings of his work, Pluta refers to himself as a "live processor," just as other musicians would call themselves trumpeters or drummers. In the past couple of years he has recorded a few CDs in which the innovations made possible by the myriad sounds available on a computer are put on display. One of the CDs released this year, Ghosts (More Is More , 2011), from trumpeter Peter Evans' quintet, contains an excellent example of Pluta's pioneering efforts.

The music combines traditional acoustic improvisers—piano, trumpet, bass and drums—performing alongside Pluta and his live processing. Unlike turntable sessions ,where the performer's scratchings were spontaneously juxtaposed with acoustic sounds, Pluta's live processing ponders rhythmic, harmonic and melodic strains, revealing his expertise with all the sonic possibilities of form and composition.

Neophytes interested in this exciting musical innovation will find Ghosts aesthetically entertaining as well as instructive. In the cut "One to Ninety-Two"—an interpolation on the classic "Christmas Song" by Mel Torme—a trumpet melody line is multiplied by Pluta's processing, with intriguing harmonic results. Victor Young's "A Ghost of a Chance," with its whole note lines, provides an opportunity for even more of these harmonic excursions. Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust," with its challenging intervallic leaps, has always been a tester for jazz vocalists, but here it is merely a prospect for more of Pluta's processing talent.

Throughout the recording, Evans' playing deftly sets the mood for this novel group. The other musicians—pianist Carlos Homs, bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Jim Black—are also conscious of their roles and carefully understate their expressions, effecting an organic meshing.

For awhile now, computer filtering has made its way into the recording sessions of many styles of music. In jazz, altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa's Samdhi (ACT, 2011) uses processors with intriguing results. The future of computer music is naturally wide open, and it will be interesting to see where it takes us. For now, Sam Pluta and his cohorts are among many musicians who have fired up our senses and fermented our imaginations.


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