Despite the popularity of such electronic keyboardists as Wendy Carlos and the musical sophistication of many self-styled 'turntablists', electronic music is generally a rather polarized affair, segregated into superficial marketers seeking the lowest common denominator and uncompromising explorers who serve as a musical research and development division.

 Composers like Barry Schrader, the founder of SEAMUS (Society of Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States) prove that one needn't necessarily choose between the two.  This collection of Schrader's electro-acoustic studio work from the past 13 or so years embodies both an immediately graspable sound world and enough abstraction to keep the mind engaged.

 Despite the intervening years, there is remarkable sonic consistency between Bachahama (1986), and electronic deconstruction of Bach's C minor fugue and Air on the G string, and Triptych (rev. 2000), the most recent and fully illustrative example of Schrader's compositional approach.  Unlike many of his electronic brethren, Schrader keeps his focus on pitch and rhythm, if not always at the same time.  Beyond that, he has managed to implement timbre fully as a structural tool – a point that many composers have discussed without true success. 

 That he relies on knobs and buttons rather than live players accounts for some measure of Schrader's success.  But even still, scores of studio musicians have toiled in a studio without stumbling upon anything resembling a distinctive voice.  Schrader's palate is admittedly limited ('spacebound electronics', the record label calls it), and at just under 50 minutes the recording comes in a bit short.  But listeners will almost certainly recognize Schrader's work the next time around.

The Electric Music Box, aka the Buchla 200 Analog Modular Synthesizer, and the quadrophonic hi-fi systems that were sold to play the music created on it, are about as hard to find these days as the mythic continent Plato describes in his Critias. "I sometimes think that much of this music of Californian counterculture in the 70s simply vanished when Quad was abandoned," writes Gary Chang, who has painstakingly remixed and remastered the four track originals of these two monumental works by Barry Schrader. Both "Trinity" (1976) and "Lost Atlantis" (1977) were recorded in Studio B303 in CalArts, where Schrader has been teaching since 1971 (there's a cracking photo of him in a pigsty on the CalArts Faculty Website), using the venerable Buchla machine and four additional "Fortune modules" specially designed by Yamaha engineer Fukushi 'Fortune' Kawakami . Analog synth buffs and youngsters whose idea of electronic music is loading up a soundfile and clicking nonchalantly on some nifty program called Munch or Scrunch will enjoy the flowcharts and circuit diagrams, but what about the music? Schrader gives the game away a little when he writes that "Trinity" was "composed in rondo – variations form".. one would like to think that with patience and plenty of imagination both of these pieces could be successfully scored for symphony orchestra without compromising their structural or harmonic integrity (though of course they couldn't – the Buchla machine's timbral sophistication is far too complex to be imitated with any accuracy by conventional instrumental forces) – they feel orchestral, or at least symphonic (as opposed to the more consciously experimental "pure electronics" of Albert Mayr.. see above). There's a great sweep to Schrader's work that puts it more in line with ambitious large-scale electronic works by the likes of Stockhausen ("Hymnen"), Eloy ("Shanti") and Henry (take your pick), a line that can be traced backwards to Mahler, Bruckner and Beethoven. I'll bet Ludwig Van would have loved the Electric Music Box

Barry Schrader - EAM

EAM collects tracks from the last 15 years or so by electro-acoustic pioneer Barry Schrader.

Most of the work that Schrader presents here is entirely electronic. One piece, Dance from the Outside, combines electronic timbres with music concrete sound manipulation. Schrader does not discuss his techniques or tools, suggesting that the tracks should speak for themselves. In his liner notes, Schrader argues that "The various technologies behind the compositions on this CD...are...of little or no importance to the value of the music presented. I hope that the listener will simply accept these works for what they are: forays into musical invention and explorations of the world of sound."

Schrader is a long-time advocate of electro-acoustic music, as an educator, author and composer. Schrader is also the founder and the first president of SEAMUS, the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States.

Electro-acoustic music is a term used to describe a broad range of modern classical electronic music. It often explores the interaction of natural and electronically generated sounds and effects. As a musical genre, electro-acoustic is sort of a catch-all term. As electronica is used to refer to any pop electronic music, electro-acoustic is often used to refer to any electronic music in the classical tradition.

With EAM, Schrader delivers a set of interesting and exciting pieces. The works showcase Schrader's skill at creating music that carries on the experimental tradition of classical electronic music, while still managing to be immediately accessible.

The first work featured on the CD, Bachahama, reworks the music of Bach with synthesizers, but won't be mistaken for a Switched-On version. Schrader arranges the originals with imitative electronic timbres, but that doesn't seem to be the focus of this piece. He also uses the compositional capabilities offered by electronics to reshape the lines of the music, and to evolve the sound of individual voices over time.

The piece draws upon two works of Bach that will be familiar to fans of classical music: the C-Minor Fugue from The Well Tempered Clavier; and the Air on the G String. Schrader creates a fast-slow-fast form by sandwiching the Air between two takes on the Fugue. In the Fugue, Schrader arranges it with percussive harpsichord-like timbres that lull the listener into expecting traditional Bach. Schrader then begins to shift notes in time, and tone clusters begin to jump out of the stream of traditional counterpoint, punctuating the fact that this is a modern reinterpretation. In the middle section, the lyrical Air is also arranged with traditional-sounding tones, but they evolve over time in ways impossible with traditional instruments.

Bachahama serves as a fitting introduction to the music on the CD. The rhythms and textures of this piece, and others that Schrader presents here, have the feeling of a performance. They seem full of movement - they would be an ideal match for modern dance. With these pieces, Schrader embraces the experimental tradition of electro-acoustic music, but does not distance himself from the greater tradition of classical music.

The next piece, Ground, is based on the idea of an ostinato, or repeated figure, that continues throughout a piece. Schrader's use of repeating material isn't as static as many classical examples. Like traditional works, though, much of the interest in this piece is in how the composer weaves the figure into changing contexts, sometimes bringing it to the front, and sometimes disguising it.

Ground begins with a restrained expression of the figure. Schrader evolves the timbres of his voices, creating a sense of tension, and brings the piece to two clangorous climaxes before returning to the calm of the beginning.

Dance from the Outside combines pure electronic sounds and sampled, or music concrete, elements. The sampled elements add a more organic texture to this piece. Schrader contrasts breathy wind tones with percussive sounds. Some listeners may hear echoes of Otto Luening's electro-acoustic flute pieces.

Still Lives is a set of five brief pieces. The first piece explores slowly evolving timbres. There's no real melodic or harmonic movement, but the shifting tone color creates a feeling of constant change. The second piece is very polyrhythmic. Metallic, percussive sounds are added one after another, creating a texture that increases in complexity until the section ends in one climactic pop!

Schrader returns in the third piece to the slowly evolving textures of the first piece. The middle piece, though has a darker feel to it, because it uses more aggressive, discordant timbres. The fourth piece echoes the percussive feel of the second piece, but uses more drum-like sounds. The final piece again features slowly evolving textures, but also has a sense of foreground and background voices.

The last composition on the CD, Triptych, seems to sum up Schrader's approach. It's the longest of the works, with three main sections that run together continuously, lasting about twenty minutes altogether.

The piece has an overall slow - fast - slow form. Each section seems to focus primarily on one aspect of music: pitch, rhythm, or timbre. The first section explores slowly evolving timbres, and contrasts lyrical elements with harsher or piercing sounds. The second section is more rhythmic, and uses more traditional percussive sounds, including bell-like pitched sounds and drum tones. It alternates the melodic pitched sounds with driving tribal drum rhythms.

The final section explores changing electronic timbres, almost like an electro-acoustic parallel to Ravel's Bolero. Schrader repeats a short musical phrase throughout the piece. With each repetition, the sounds used to voice the phrase change slightly, evolving from percussive tones to long, shifting tones.

With Triptych, Schrader starts with minimal material, yet creates a lengthy work that is full of interest, through variations in fundamental elements of music. His use of slowly evolving and changing timbres help give his work a unique voice.

With the works on EAM, Schrader balances the impulse to be experimental and original with a need to connect with the emotions and instincts of listeners. The result is music with lyricism, passion, rhythm and drive that makes music the master of technology. EAM is a must-have for electro-acoustic music fans.

Tracks:

  • Bachahama
  • Ground
  • Dance from the Outside
  • Still Life 1
  • Still Life 2
  • Still Life 3
  • Still Life 4
  • Still Life 5
  • Triptych

CD Feature/ Barry Schrader: "EAM"

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This collection of compositions from the mid-80s up until the year 2000 sets out to demonstrate the validity of two theories in the oeuvre of Barry Schrader. The first one relates to the very nature of Electro-Acoustic Music (any more questions about the acronym of the album title?) and its in-built connection with technology: According to Schrader, it should be possible to appeciate music created in the Studio situation and by purely electronic means without prior knowledge of the tools used in the process. It may or may not be a conscious wink that the first two works on display here are full of Classical allusions and hark back to a time, when this thesis was in fact still highly disputed.

“Bachama”, for one, bases on two famous (surprise, surprise!) Bach-compositions, while “Ground” transposes the Baroque ground bass into densely layered electronics. While the former piece starts off in a quasi-caricatural way with the melodic lines overlapping in frenzied counterpoints, only to later caress the ear with a gently smeared-out and tenderly tentacled version of the “Air”, the latter manages to create a sense of time supsension and unexpected coherence in a piece which explores various facets of a simple, but intricate motive. In the middle, Schrader brings in the heavy artillery, with massive washes of threatening, pulsating clusters superimposing the variations, but their impact is just as immense with or without the details of which synthesizers were used in which way in the process. The use of Classical foms and archetypes makes this even clearer: After all, the question which was on the mind of Handel’s contemporaries was certainly not which instrument was playing which part, but how the composer had solved the challenge of thematic transformation. If the proposition is put to a test at all, then it is more so by the poignant “Dance from the Outside”, as it uses concrete elements from recorded winds alongside purely electronic material – but even here this only matters, because Schrader’s entire recorded history would suggest otherwhise. In a different context (another important aspect to consider), the technical backgrounds to this track would certainly be of minor importance.

On then to the second theory, which deals with Schrader’s conviction that timbre can be perceived as a third relevant musical dimension next to pitch and rhythm. The exploration of this idea takes place in “Triptych”, a twenty-minute suite encompassing rondo-form sections as well as a segment focussed on changing timbral focus. It is a hypnotic piece, which has ended up a mixture of textural and melodic passages and comes across the way you would imagine symphonic music to sound like in the next millenium.

I’m just not quite sure whether it serves as proof in point when it comes to the initial presumption. Not because I disagree with it in principe, but rather because I’m unsure whether the segment in question works so perfectly because of its timbral modulations or because of its soft and lightfilled qualities contrast so effectively with the harsher nature of what preceeds and succeeds it. On the other hand, thinking about this too much would conflict with the opening suggestion of allowing the music to simply be. “EAM” is a mesmerising, eclectic and potentially addicitve collection of electro-acoustic compositons. Let’s just leave it at that.

Hmmm...this is a very unusual album to say the least. Barry Schrader is a decidedly unconventional recording artist seemingly unconcerned with things like commercial appeal and popularity. Monkey King is divided into two segments. The first is entitled "Wu Xing - Cycle of Destruction." This piece explores the five ancient Chinese elements: metal, wood, earth, water, and fire. But don't expect to hear the type of Chinese music you hear in your typical Asian restaurant. This lengthy piece which lasts almost twenty minutes is a modern excursion into the world of atmospheric electronics. It's a strangely odd and hypnotic trip to be certain...and if you turn it up really loud you might just begin to hallucinate. The second segment of this album (entitled "Monkey King") centers around a fictional character in the 1550 book Journey to the West by Wu Cheng-en. Divided into four pieces, this 37 minute creation is a pure work of audio art. "Monkey King" is more musical than the first track...but there are plenty of unexpected surprises in the music. The track is sometimes very restrained and ambient...while at other times bursts of startling sound seem to attack the unsuspecting listener. Wildly inventive and unconventional, this album will appeal to folks who are drawn to truly strange instrumentals. Chock full of imagination and creativity. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

If the FFT's timbral universe has been sloshing away your will to live, you might like to give SEAMUS founder Barry Schrader's Lost Atlantis a listen [Innova 629, 2004]. This seminal composer of electro-acoustic music has re-released two works from the 1970's that build generous, enthralling trajectories from fantastic palettes of sound coaxed and commanded from an unapologetically analog Buchla 200. Composer/producer Gary Chang mixed and remastered from four-channel masters to produce the stereo versions heard on the CD. Lost Atlantis [the CD] comprises Trinity (1976) and Lost Atlantis (1977).

Trinity is a one movement work in rondo-variation form, playing just over fifteen minutes. Called by Schrader a "musical gestalt," its theme is essentially an envelope opening up (i.e., the shape of a hairpin crescendo). [Note: all text within double quotation marks has been drawn from comprehensive liner notes accompanying the CD.] Over a series of five sections, Schrader operates upon this shape via retrograde, nesting and hybridization procedures, and (once) restates it. Clarity of form highlights Schrader's prodigious timbral invention. At the same time, all these slopes provide a basis for the transformations of timbre that especially occupied him during Trinity's composition.

 Lost Atlantis [the composition] is a work in six parts based on an account of Atlantis found in Plato's Critias. The parts have titles, such as "The Temple of Poseidon • The Dance of the Gods" and "The Mystery Rites of Purification," tracing the dialogue's progress. The music is correspondingly evocative—but Schrader articulates a concern with relating "interpretations of impressions" rather than painting specific settings. Again, an exquisite control of timbre is foregrounded; and Schrader employs a syntax more varied than Trinity's in the service of a more varied (and less purely abstract) set of ideas. The duration of this work is 39:39.Both works were made with The Electric Music Box [Buchla 200 Analog Modular Synthesizer], developed in 1970, with four additional modules custom built by Fukushi Kawakami of Yamaha, who was in residence at CalArts when the music was composed. Most important of these Fortune Modules (Kawakami's nickname was 'Fortune') was the Control Voltage Matrix Gate, which allowed Schrader "to mix and process up to four control voltage sources, and was an important factor in [his] ability to do real-time timbral transformations." [The composer grants us a fair amount of technical information in the liner notes; the interested reader may look there.]

  I find timbre to be the most outrageous and wonderful aspect of the music. [Note: In preparing this review, I listened to the music on very big, warm Klipsch home audio speakers, Mackie HR824s and standard studio headphones [Sony MDR-7506]. The music sounded good (and so it was good) everywhere; but I would strongly recommend listening on headphones at some point.] When you listen to this music, it is very easily 3:00 AM in the studio, and you are in that punch-drunk but exalted state which only comes around there and then, when you have tweaked and tweaked and tweaked, and you just might have done it this time—in other words, the state that is the most soulful payoff for all of us, and justifies our practice more than anything. For practitioners, then, I believe it may be a thrill to think Schrader's thoughts after him. He manifests a mastery not only of his technological environment, but more importantly of the character and flow of musical information pushed to the listener.

At the same time, in opposition to the warmth of some of the fattest filters the world has known, I hear a music that spends much of its time at quite some distance—fine, glorious, kinetic and rather heroic objects rotating in space several thousand yards from here (though they are yet massive enough to be examined in detail). Both works are highly formal, teleological and coherent, and for composers of our time both positive and negative connotations might attend those qualities. Linear are their narratives. But perhaps a tension between Schrader's 'relational' composition and the mind-boggling, sine sweat non immediacy of sound is interesting in itself. There are, as well, plenty of moments that would dispute any characterization that the music is awfully Serious—as the third section of Lost Atlantis that spins out a celebratory rhythmic section or, more generally, when the sound is so gorgeous it forces out all other considerations. And anyway [SEAMUS], don't we like abstract, heroic objects rotating in space? Perhaps that is part of what Gary Chang means when he writes that the music is "unapologetically electronic."

 One final perspective that occurs to me is that these works, though they have and will likely continue to age very well, sound full of the DNA of a single, virtuosic individual—a Californian in the mid-seventies fresh off muttonchops. Obviously that is very cool. This music is sublime, and it would not be surprising if Barry Schrader hears on this CD today pretty nearly what he intended to put down.

This CD salvages two electro-acoustic works composed by Barry Schrader in the mid-'70s on the Buchla 200, a keyboardless analog modular synthesizer. Not only were these pieces realized on a little-known instrument, but also they were originally quadraphonic. Few are the composers who truly mastered Buchla's innovative instruments and the quadraphonic electro-acoustic repertoire has been all but lost, so this CD is a very welcome release, both in terms of music history and listening enjoyment, for these two works remain fascinating, regardless of how they were conceived. "Trinity" (1976, 15 minutes) is a rather formalist exercise in theme and variations, where the theme consists of sound shapes instead of notes. It is dry, but it exploits and showcases the possibilities of the Buchla 200 to a nice extent, while featuring a high level of aesthetic elegance. In comparison, the 40-minute "Lost Atlantis" (1977) is gorgeously evocative, its sound poetry often reminiscent of Francis Dhomont's Cycle de l'Errance. A suite in ten parts (grouped into six tracks), the work depicts the lost continent as described by Plato in his Critias. The music is imbued with mystery, its reliance on non-melodic material empowering it with an ageless appeal that could as well be ancient. Schrader makes use of a wide palette of tones and textures, and his sense of space and drama create a mysterious place in which the listener is eager to lose himself or herself. "The Gardens of Cleito," especially, achieves a touching form of grace that is light-years away from the rigors of "Trinity." Recommended.

With Fallen Sparrow, Barry Schrader ventures into neoclassical wanderings and, most importantly, this work also sees additional performers joining in to augment the organic feel of the compositions, contributing operatic vocals, violin parts, clarinet and delightful piano passages. All blended in the imaginary and distinctively avant-garde electronic arrangements by the composer. There is some atmospheric grandeur in some passages of the title track, dedicated to a sparrow victim of the implacable cold and the reading of the liner notes is even more touching than the music itself, which reaches peaks of dramatic tension at the hands of Mark Menzies' violin. The untypical soundtrack-like mélange of classical and avant-garde elements make this work extraordinarily intriguing and highly entertaining.

The CD Opens with the ‘bonus’ track “Wu Xing - Cycle of Destruction” which through seemingly simple, yet highly complex electronic sequencing, drones and textures, captures the elements of metal, wood, earth, water and fire. It presents the elements in a transcendental way by exploring them conceptually and spiritually as well as recounting their physicality. The 20 minute piece’s water section is a single data loop that is continually manipulated and the it culminates with a fire of immense energy. “Monkey King” is an electronic soundtrack to one of China’s classic works of literature, “Journey to the West”. Utilising vast amounts of hard and soft ware Schrader closely recreates the textures, tones, harmonies and resonance of traditional Chinese instrumentation. Each section is hailed into being with the powerful crash of electronically replicated gong and manufactured plucked, bowed and hammered strings, bells, cymbals and chimes and blown bamboo are omnipresent. Conjuring readily reflections of an underworldly, spiritual landscape set within Chinese mythology it is difficult to remain cerebrally rooted in the contemporary age in which the suite was composed. “Monkey King” harmoniously coexists between modern technology and ancient mythology.

“In the ancient Chinese land of Ao-lai, on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit was a magic rock. This rock gave birth to an egg which hatched into a stone monkey. So begins one of the great classic Chinese works of literature, Journey to the West, written around 1550 by Wu Cheng-en.” With Monkey King, electronic music composer and a Cal Arts teacher since 1971, Barry Schrader, aurally tells the story of this intelligent animal’s birth and long journey to become a buddha. The CD’s five long tracks pulse out a veritable smorgasbord of musical challenges. Midnight drones provide a bed for all kinds of other sounds to bounce off of. Pinging shaker rhythms, cascading synth ruffles and stabs, drilling or echoey shimmers, rhythmic machine guns and static, reverb hits, gong storms, tolling bells and plenty of other drama suddenly gives way at various times to a stately stasis or a light flitting of uplifting effervescence. Then it all builds to swirling climax, occasionally interrupted by subtle touches of melody, or, alternately, hammering shimmers. Just when you start to hope the journey will never end, a sharp aluminum slash kills it all dead. If you’re a lover of minimal synth excursions, this disc will breathe new life into your listening day–whether you’re a man or a monkey.

CD Feature/ Barry Schrader: "Lost Atlantis"

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There is a “gramophone magatzine” quote on Barry Schrader, which might seem a bit odd at first: “Schrader’s electro-acoustic music appeals to both the ear and the mind.” What’s so strange about this is that a critic should mention it – after all, isn’t that what almost every composer sets out to do? In Barry’s case, however, it is definitely worth an exclamation mark, if only for the manyfold prejudices (or sheer ignorance) against the genre he is operating in. And besides, as “Lost Atlantis” proves, every single word of it is true.

This is one of the releases, which are not just mere byproducts of market economy, but actually a lot more than their simple packaging suggests. “Lost Atlantis” collects two early works, brings in film music composer/sound engineer and self-proclaimed Schrader-fan Gary Chang for some masterful remastering and adds some highly informartive liner notes in the extensive booklet. As Chang points out, he was there in 1976, when “Trinity” was premiered live at the Vanguard Theater and totally blown away by its combination of pride in its purely electronics nature and yet deeply-rooted connection with the (post-)romantic masters of the past, such as Mahler or Bruckner. For a long time, the only available copy was a tape handed to Chang by Barry himself, which naturally wore out over the years. In the decades which followed, Schrader was as active as ever and it can only be put down to an apparent distaste for self-promotion and marketing mechanisms (which he shares with a few of hgis generational colleagues, such as Richard Lainhart) that it has taken so long for this music to be published. Still today, the caleidoscopically swirling whirlwind, arranged in a rondo form and ceaselessly permutating, tramsforming, mutating and juxtaposing within itself has lost nothing of its immediate appeal. The same goes for the almost fourty minute long, seven-part title track. Here, the nuances of Schrader’s language become even clearer: Romantic, but always slightly opaque visions sway between major and minor, concrete and abstract as well as between sound and structure, rise from silence to frenzied outbursts and pandemonious sequences of lightning-speed tremolos and arpeggios. There is constant flux between the beautiful and the brazen, the delicate and the dirty, the feminine and the muscular and it is this endless interplay which lends a decided dramaturgy and dynamic to his works.

Gramophone goes on to write: “[It is] approachable electronic music with a distinctive individual voice to reward the adventurous.” That, too, is true. There is even a sense of overt emotionality, untypical yet highly refreshing for the often pretty scientific electronic scene. To complete the quote from the very beginning: Schrader’s music pleases the ear, the mind and the heart.

Beyond is a work of subtle electro-acoustic compositions that comprises efforts dated between 1992 and 2004. Barry Schrader wanders through the meanders of life and death, exploring the sonic significance of the first spring experienced by a new-born sparrow, which will be remembered on the moments of its death, and then going on to investigate in great detail death, in a trilogy spelling its before, into and after phases. Cheerful, uhu? As it's customary for the author, the arrangements are pretty dynamic, with fragile and mysterious ambient moments scattered across xylophone feasts and blooming electronic sounds. But once into the 'death' theme, which constitutes the second half of the album, matters turn gloomy indeed and we are treated to some exquisite dark ambient finesse that won't fail to impress genre buffs. There isn't an easy way into Barry Schrader's art, as there's nothing obvious or granted about his works. His free-style ambient of Beyond puts him across as a great free-thinker in the world of experimental music.

On Beyond, composer Barry Schrader presented lengthy pieces of electro-acoustic music written between 1992 and 2004, three of them grouped into a 2004 suite titled "Death." Diverse instrumentation, including waterphones, harpsichord, violin, and computer-treated samples, were used to create celestial soundscapes evoking endless space and muted oceanic waves. While there's an immersed-in-a-black-hole feel to much of the material, trace elements of sound enable the tone to steer clear of utter emptiness, as if vibrations are bouncing off objects that serve as reminders that we're not wholly alone. That's most true of the pieces comprising "Death," but that's not Schrader's sole mood, as "First Spring" creates tinkling, shimmering rows of volleying notes with a hint of melancholy mysticism. One would be hard-pressed to call any of this cave-dwelling ambience jaunty, but some mild levity is supplied by "Duke's Tune," based on a more or less random "tune" "composed" on the xylophone by "Duke" -- not Duke Ellington, but an actual pig, pictured playing the xylophone in the CD booklet.

CD Feature/ Barry Schrader: "Beyond"

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Barry Schrader is a composer who likes to get right to it. While some of his colleagues have made it an art moulding everything into metaphors, hiding behind the “beauty” of their aural clouds or behind the usual “space” connotations of their analog electronic equipment, Schrader neither has an interest in the supposed poetical qualities of beating about the bush, nor in leaving earth. If he does touch upon metaphysical questions, then they hold a direct link with human existence– such as on “Beyond”.

Separated into two blocks of almost exactly 28 minutes, this collection of six fairly recent tracks composed between 1992 and 2004 deals with death, its different forms and the stages leading towards it. “First Spring”, a programmatic offshoot from the “Fallen Sparrow” sessions, portrays the imagined last thoughts of a dying bird, returning to the miraculous and slowly unfolding fields of its youth, while “Beyond” depicts the unknown in more general terms, as a landscape outside of our direct reach. In these pieces, Schrader is clearly still on the tonal side of things – his bubbling, glistening, glittering, breathing, menacing, whispering and threatening sounds clearly relating to each other in harmonic terms, even though he isolates them into dissected islands which thwarts the notion of chord scheme development and blurrs the listener’s sense of time. Death, here, is a frightening place, yet you can always feel its strange lure, just like you are drawn into the deep when gazing from a high building and the way “Beyond” quietens down after a full-force-opening conjurs up images of candles being blown out by motionless winds. On the demonstratively entitled tripart “Death”, however, nothing remains from this still human perspective. The music stripps off form and structures start disintegrating. “Before Death”, the first movement, consists of long-drawn breaths of greyish colour, shifting inside, approaching yet resting in themselves. They condense into thick packs of sighed drones in the second part, giving birth to the metamorphic rock of “After Death”, a trip of intense majesty and nebulous infinity against which the soundscapes of the “Dark Ambient” scene seem like Disney Land excursions.

Of course, Schrader doesn’t offer any direct answers. He knows all too well that there are hints at what to expect when life converges towards its end, but nothing the material world would call “solid evidence”. What he has realised, though, is that music may offer a quicker glimpse behind the curtain than words. “The fate of everything is nothing, and in nothing is everything.”, the liner notes read, “And then there was silence”. Which is why you have to stay wide awake until the very end – it is the moment when the music’s over which conceals a glimpse of the solution.

Fallen Sparrow presents four of Barry Schrader's works composed between 1989 and 2005. The common thread: they are all mixed works for electronics and live performers. Up first is the triptych "Love, In Memoriam," by and large the most interesting piece on this album. A short song cycle, it features tenor Frank Royon Le Mée interpreting three poems by Michaël Glück (in French, with an English translation provided in the booklet). The first and last of the songs are simply wonderful, especially "L'Oreille Coupée," in which the plaintive melody is accompanied by two rushed-up piano parts, creating a gripping sense of madness. In comparison, the 20-minute title piece simply sounds too dry. This seven-part suite offers a rather uninvolving electronic part for violinist Mark Menzies to duet with. Despite good passages, it fails to leave a lasting impression. "Five Arabesques," with clarinetist William Powell, is bolder and better, thanks to musical figures that are both clever and catchy. Vicki Ray is at the piano for the concluding "Ravel," which features the highest level of electronics/instrumentalist integration of the set. In the course of its 15 minutes, the piece goes through several mood swings, from cyclical motives to brooding chords and quirky clusters, all closely intertwined with the computer part, which remains very tonal throughout. Past the first few minutes, the intensity hits a peak and stays there, stealing the listener's attention and not letting go. But it does not have the emotional charge of "Love, In Memoriam," the main reason to buy Fallen Sparrow to be sure.

CD Feature/ Barry Schrader: "Fallen Sparrow"

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The act of hearing is closely connected to different layers of meaning embedded in music. Consciously or unconsciously, our perceptive organs are looking for connections, for references – in short, for a system. Barry Schrader picks up on this when talking about “Fallen Sparrow”, a collection of four complementary compositions, each of them a collaboration with a different instrumentalist. In accordance with Leonard Meyer, he distinguishes between embodied meaning (the mutual relations between the constituent musical elements) and designative meaning (the intellectual or emotional programs of a piece). His aim, and this may distinguish him among many of his colleagues, is that however intricate the emobodied meaning may be and how cleverly or skilfully its themes may have been constructed, “the music must stand on its own apart from these technical and compositional considerations.” The underlying “theoretical”  quality is, however, closely connected to the programmatic and emotive values – and Schrader uses it to open up different spaces of appreciation.

Which means that it is not necessary to be a musicologist in order to get something out of this album but it definitely enriches the experience. There are references and tributes abound and not all of them are as obvious as the piece by the name of “Ravel” – even though, of course, this work lends itself nicely to such investigations, thanks to its allusions to the French composer’s “Le tombeau de Couperin”, the “Piano Concerto in G”, “La Valse” and “Daphnis et Chloe”. On most occasions, the embodied meaning takes the form of self-reference, of a motive serving as s source for variations, transcriptions and for binding the separate tracks on the CD together:

Very subtly, but quite purposely, all of the tracks here relate to each another. Designative meanings are prominent on the title piece (a dark fantasy for electronics and violin, based on discovering the nest of a dead bird ) as well as the opening “Love, in Memoriam”. The latter piece is made up of three Lieder for discrete synthesizer arrangements and Frank Royon Le Mee’s supple countertenor, touching upon the lives of Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci and Lewis Carroll with lines as unambigous as “My severed ear weighs heavy in your hands/your painful words making the days more unbearable.” There is however, a third meaning contained here and it may well be the most obvious one on a first listen and without the liner notes at hand.

Already on the previous release I had the pleasure to review (“EAM”), Barry Schrader discussed his interest in timbre as a factor of musical development. On “Fallen Sparrow”, it has very much attained that status. Sound as such has become both a driving force as well as a source of meaning in itself: It accompanies the lyrics with precise strokes on “Love, In Memoriam”, provides sharp contrasts with the lyrically organic lines of the clarinet on “Five Arabesques” and charges between complimentary emulation and direct opposition in “Ravel”. On “Fallen Sparrow” (the piece), meanwhile, the embodied, designative and timbral meaning come together in perfect unison, the violin melody moves from agitated death cries to warm acceptance as the work deals with the four final stages of the bird’s life and the sounds fill in the unspoken gaps, the metaphysical implications, the silence.

Just as much as there are musical themes envelopping the entire record, the sound world Schrader has created is tightly defined and recognisable. It certainly had to be with regards to the symbiosis between organic and electronic instruments in all the tracks contained here. This last point opens up another angle from which to regard “Fallen Sparrow”, namely as a destillation of highly personal human relationships, of finding the right partner for a music which requires experience, expertise and a pronounced sensitivity for the nuances that lie in playing with an “invisible orchestra”. “Through all of this journey”, Schrader concludes in the booklet, “there is a variety of musical means and intent that I hope will keep the listener engaged.” He might just as well have written: A variety of musical meanings.