Home » Electroacoustic/Contemporary » SCHAEFER, GOSFIELD, BLACKBURN, FREDDERSEN, BURTNER, CORRINGHAM, EDEN, NORMANDEAU: The Art of the Vir
SCHAEFER, GOSFIELD, BLACKBURN, FREDDERSEN, BURTNER, CORRINGHAM, EDEN, NORMANDEAU: The Art of the Vir
Conceived by Henry Cowell and built by Lev Theremin in 1931, the Rhythmicon was an instrument designed to produce impossibly complex layers of calculated pulsed tones - following the 'rhythm chord' scheme, outlined in Cowell's seminal book 'New Musical Resources'. Because of its rhythmic complexity the music he sketched there would have been unplayable by human beings (computers have no such difficulty - nor do player pianos, as Conlon Nancarrow brilliantly demonstrated). Cowell's very few pieces for the instrument, performed only a handful of times, were never recorded and, of the three instruments built, only one working model survives, at the Smithsonian. The works here were made using a virtual Rhythmicon, designed by Nick Didkovsky. Mostly working with long electronic tones (notable exceptions are Blackburn's 'Henry & Mimi', which uses piano samples, and Eden's vocal piece), these works, while fairly interesting in themselves, do not announce the Rhythmicon as a unique resource. They sound in fact like any number of recent computer generated recordings. Perhaps this was inevitable, but then why stress the Rhythmicon, which has such a strong historical meaning, when there is no attempt to use it to do what Cowell designed it to do? For a CD that recognises the instrument for the first time, I think reference recordings of the original would have been useful; and a reconstruction of at least one of Cowell's own pieces, to provide an historical context. There is a moment in Blackburn's piece where possibility gleams, but it is not pursued. All of Nancarrow, and Johnny Reinhard's reconstruction of Ives' Universe Symphony come closer to Cowell's dreams than anything here. That's not to say that these are not fine in their own right - and they certainly were made with the virtual instrument - however, an historic tribute to the Rhythmicon remains to be made.