Monday, February 24, 2014
Pushing Sassafras Wood for Synthesizers
Here's a video portrait of Baltimore electronic instrument designer Peter Blasser. In the early 70s, composer (and electronic instrument designer) Gordon Mumma, notoriously introduced the notion of an "electronic folk music" and while the term "folk" has its baggage, it's precisely the kind of baggage packed so that one is forced to keep thinking and rethinking the circumstances of how the music is made, with what means, by whom and within which communities and for what purposes. One of the liveliest scenes in New Music today involves extraordinary electronic and electroacoustic instruments and music being made by artists largely independent of institutional music support and (mostly) cheerfully disregarding any amateur/professional divisions that institutional music tends to reinforce, yet absolutely thriving whether as independents or in elective communities (let me emphasize that: not folk as in kinship and ethnos, but from a coming together due to an elective affinity), gathering for workshops, sharing materials, schematics and other know-how and esoterica on-line and off and generally finding ways to be inventive with all the jetsam and ligam of our economy, which get hacked and bent into forms completely unintended by their original manufacturers. The "folk" label really becomes provocative when one considers that relationship to the broader world and how such an admixture of high and low technology comes into play, with Blasser, for example, as enthusiastic about tactility of the local hardwoods used in his keys and cases as in the circuitry housed behind them. And, too, consider, when visiting his websites, how Blasser's handwork has gone hand-in-hand to imagining a whole world around his music from the ground up, with its own idiosyncratic parameters and theory and terminology (not unlike the Anaphorian music of Kraig Grady.) At the same time, Blasser is directly engaging with the real world, founding a cottage industry in Baltimore and making broader connections (such as a line of code referencing the invasions of G.W. Bush.) And the music made with these instruments? It's really impossible to make generic descriptions; given the variability and unpredictability of the instruments and the performance diversity of the individual players a vector space of possibilities is opened up that range from the elegant and virtuosic all the way down, which is precisely the kind of depth missing from less lively Kampungs, Oblasts and Boroughs of Newmusicland with their tendency to emphasize a certain sphere of music-making at the expense of everything else.