Machine Age Music


Henry Vega
Stream Machines
NETHERLANDS ARTEksounds ART002 CD (2013)

Stream Machines collects together five recordings of compositions by Henry Vega. The first ‘Slow Slower’ sits bang in the centre of what we know as minimalism, utilising rock dynamics, repetition and slow mutation to shimmering effect, so ‘Izumi’, the second piece, comes as a bit of a surprise. With a trio of musicians credited with ‘electronics’ (two players) and percussion (one other) this is a chiming, busy, work that shimmers and pulses, slowly resolving from it’s abstract opening into complex patterns of tone and sound that I can only describe as beautiful.

‘Scanner Quartet’ is for string quartet and computer, although it’s unclear if the computer is used to accompany or treat the quartet. I suspect the latter as there’s a general credit on the CD sleeve stating that ‘all electronics performed by Henry Vega’ (although this is contradicted by the electronics credit to musicians on tracks two and four). Anyway, on this track the string quartet is at times mutated into an electronic ghost of itself, with the warmth and timbre of the strings removed; at other times riffs are repeated and extended as electronic pulses, which other strings pluck over. I don’t know what to make of it really – at times it sounds like the kind of old school computer music people like Morton Feldman made, on the borders of musique concrète and experimental classical.

It is however preferable to being subjected to ‘Automata Angels – The Electronic Hammer’ for percussion and electronics, which is like having your head inside a bucket whilst someone hits it, and someone else plays with a primitive analogue synthesizer to replicate the electronic bits of old space mission conversations. Thankfully it’s only 7 minutes long (a very long 7 minutes though) and ‘Stream Machines and the Black Arts’, which closes the CD, soon arrives.

This is a ten minute track (composition?) for eViolin and electronics. Again it is unclear if this is a studio treatment or real-time improvisation; again it mutates and synthesizes sounds until they become removed from their original source. Barbara Luneberg saws and plucks her eViolin and either plays through an electronics version of herself, or plays along and against the soundscape version of herself. In fact Robert Fripp’s solo soundscapes might not be a bad analogy, although these ‘Stream Machines’ are rawer and more abstract than Fripp’s sustained melodies on guitar.

Luneberg’s music (or Vega’s music?) does slowly clarify and resolve though, with a nervous pulse developing for the last few minutes of the piece. This underpins some otherworldy and ethereal treated melodies which shimmer and hover around themselves and are gradually left alone in the mix to conclude this piece and the CD. This is carefully considered, and in the main successful, composition which takes on board developments from both classical and contemporary music worlds; Henry Vega is a name I shall look out for in the future.

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