Zack Browning and Eun-Bae Kim: Diversity in Music


















Zack Browning: Breakpoint Screamer, on CD CPS-8656 (Society of Composers, CD no. 12), Capstone Records, 252 DeKalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11205; distributed by Albany Music Distributors, Inc., 915 Broadway, Albany, NY 12207; telephone 1-800-752-1951

Eun-Bae Kim: Sounds of Pusan, on CD CPS-8641 (Esther Lamneck), 1998, Capstone Records, 252 DeKalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11205

Reviewed by Nico Schüler

Two CDs, two composers with electronic pieces, representing two generations ... in one review. Actually, the two CDs are both collections of compositions by seven composers each: The first one, "Transcendencies," is no. 12 of the Society of Composers, Inc. CD Series, for which the compositions were selected by a regional rotating panel of composers. The second one, "Diverse Settings," was recorded by the New York clarinetist Esther Lamneck. But even though almost all compositions on these two CDs were composed during the 1990s, only one composition on each CD is, at least in part, of electronic nature: Zack Browning's Breakpoint Screamer (1994) for five trumpets and computer-generated tape and Eun-Bae Kim's Sounds of Pusan (n.d.) for clarinet, recorded clarinet, and tape.

Breakpoint Screamer by the University of Illinois professor of composition and music theory, Zack Browning, was commissioned by the International Trumpet Guild (ITG) for performance at the 1994 ITG conference at the University of Illinois. Several layers of pulse-oriented patterns bring trumpets and tape together in a unique and fresh way, creating an energy-carrying dramaturgy that culminates towards the end of the 7-minute piece. Each pattern, with a distinct rhythmic and melodic appearance, may change its global position so that not only different patterns get together at different times in the composition, but also with a different local position to each other. Thus, different polyrhythms are constantly created. As the listener learns from the CD cover, the tape used in this piece was produced with GACSS (Genetic Algorithms in Composition and Sound Synthesis), a software package developed by the Illinois composer, artist, and multi-media specialist Benjamin Grosser. With GACSS, sound synthesis and compositional parameters are controlled by genetic algorithms. The timbres generated by the program are classified with regard to their waveform, called breakpoints. Breakpoints specifically represent the number of peaks and the distance between those peaks. The composition Breakpoint Screamer represents an excellent result of this concept, especially considering the combination of instrumental timbres with computer-generated ones and the "dialogue" between trumpets and tape. But most of all, the large-scale concept works: the piece is fascinating up to the last second. That the performance requires five trumpet players instead of two (or three) for such a light texture is another question, but the final, audible result is what counts.

Eun-Bae Kim's Sounds of Pusan is in contrast to Mr. Browning's piece in that Mr. Kim's composition is very weak in its musical dramaturgy: Although its length is only a little less than 7 minutes, Sounds of Pusan seems deadly boring already after the first four minutes. Just the constant employment of nontraditional clarinet-techniques cannot hold such a slow piece together without further contrasts in tempo and without stronger melodic and rhythmic "developments." However, there are two interesting aspects regarding this piece and its performance: the excellent performance by Esther Lamneck and the musical connection to Kim's native country. To start with the latter, Kim "promised" the sounds of Pusan with the title of his composition - the sounds of Kim's hometown in the south-east of South Korea. These sounds were achieved through modal pitch organization, it seems. This concept is not only supported by the electronic tape, but also by glissandi-like pitch fluctuation, microtonality, multiphonics, and vibrati. But while in traditional Korean music vibrati are often employed to emphasize the tonal (modal) center of a composition, Mr. Kim's vibrati are rather used as a general tool to create the non-Western modal effect, and even the simulation of some native Korean reed instruments. Finally, the generally slow tempo might be used to create a link to Korean court music. Maybe, Mr. Kim's Sounds of Pusan is, with such a perspective, not "boring" after all? In any case, Esther Lamneck's performance is crystal-clear in its articulation and of highest quality. In this piece, Mrs. Lamneck is concertizing with herself: on tape and life. After all, Esther Lamneck is not only a versatile performer, but also an advocate of contemporary music.

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This review was originally published as: Nico Schüler: "Zack Browning: Breakpoint Screamer & Eun-Bae Kim: Sounds of Pusan" Computer Music Journal 24/4 (Winter 2000): 75-76.

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last revised: 3-20-2003