Despite the popularity of such electronic keyboardists as Wendy Carlos and the musical sophistication of many self-styled 'turngablists', 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 15 or so years embodies both an immediately graspable sound world and enough abstraction to keep the mind engaged.
Despite the intervening years, there is a remarkable sonic consistency between Bachahama (1986), an 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. But listeners will almost certainly recongise Schrader's work the next time around.
Ken Smith, Gramophone
Dance from the Outside 4:35
Still Life 1 1:22
Still Life 2 1:15
Still Life 3 1:28
Still Life 4 1:13
Still Life 5 1:59
Triptych, my favorite piece of the festival, had three wonderful movements, each exploring distinct musical nooks and crannies, inviting the listener to enter into the music, unfolding in a way that pieces rarely do. The last movement had one signal chord that kept coming at, wooshing at the listener, each time sounding slightly different, never once seeming to repeat itself, always surprising in its freshness yet holding you transfixed within the larger sameness of the gesture. I could have sat there all night simply letting that chord roll over me.
Ira Mowitz, Journal SEAMUS
Triptych is a milestone in the annals of electronic music. The piece, in its entirety, is so convincing in its sincerity and conviction that few could view it outside of a state of absolute ecstasy and shock. This is the electro-acoustic music composition against which the state of the art will be judged for a long while. So long as FM is a legitimate reality in the electro-acoustic music world, and this work clearly puts Schrader at the pinnacle of this technology, Triptych will stand as a monument to John Chowning's ideas, and, in addition, will join the ranks of the most beautiful and historically important works of our time.
Straightline, Journal SEAMUS