Composer and horn player
Deborah Thurlow's musical palette is awash in contrasts. It is, by
turns, delicate and mystical, then brash and clangorous. Moments of
stark, electronic pointillism compete with and complement others that
are expansive and symphonic.
At times, I Am is also a study in contrasting derivations, sounding like a curious
amalgam of early Stockhausen, the tone poetry of Diamanda Galas and
the soundtrack to a '50s sci-fi movie. The latter reference comes
from Thurlow's use of that quintessential electronic standby, the
theremin (played here to virtuoso effect by Eric Ross). On pieces
such as Ross' Serenade [Op. 46], the CD offers dense aural
landscapes of droning textures populated by expressive flourishes
from Thurlow's electronically-treated horn.
The most satisfying track,
Thurlow's The Chaotic World, mixes quasi-melodic string passages
with the whirring theremin and clanging, pseudo-metal guitar riffs
from Clive Smith. The contrasts of styles, tones and sensibilities
Horn Call - XXXII, no. 1, November, 2001 - by John Dressler
is a freelance musician in the PA-NJ-NY area. She specializes in music
devoted to the art of contemporary and jazz improvisation. On the
faculty at the Newark Community School of the Arts, she is currently
working on New Horn on the Block, a live documentary of the horn in
jazz. In 2000, she released her first New Age CD titled Angelic Waves.
Most of the music on this latest recording is atmospheric, metrically
free, and soul-searching. Sections are reminiscent of music of Harry
Partch, Rick Todd, and Tom Varner; other sections are pensive, subtle,
and reverberant. The full gamut of open, stopped, bent notes and the
like are combined with the colorful instruments lend a truly unique
setting for concerts and recitals. At times, the hornist is connected
to a wireless mike and guitar pedals; Track 4 features a tape loop
of a Tibetan Singing Bowl. From unaccompanied horn to the medium of
horn, electric guitar, theremin, strings, and percussion, the music
has something for everyone. Ancient Future includes distortion, feedback,
flanging, chorusing, phasing, resonant delays, echoes, and loops to
keep reinforcing the oldest and most elemental building block of music:
the overtone series. In Serenade, the instruments form a dialogue
around fixed sections comprising tonal, atonal and serial materials.
The players are asked to imitate human, animal, and instrumental sounds
to each other. The opening melodic theme in Sacred Postlude, played
by the horn, is a well-known Hebrew prayer sung during Jewish New
Year. The quarter-tones provide a cohesive blend with the natural
harmonics of shofar, Tibetan Singing Bowl, and tingsha. Prolonged
Shofar Variations is based on quotations from Jewish prayers and biblical
chant. The Chaotic World explores three types of improvisation: jazz,
aleatoric, and free contemporary. A repeated fugal section is suddenly
interrupted by the Dies Irae chant from the Requiem mass. The piece
ends with a short three-part canon with the echo of chimes in the
Magazine - December 2001 - by Ian Wagstaff
Forget Rattigan and Shilkloper,
this jazz horn CD, entitled I Am, is really different.
Quite how different? Well, combine the Dalai Lama with Berlioz, throw
in some Hebraic influence and you might be getting there. New Jersey
horn player, Deborah Thurlow uses an eclectic mix of instruments,
from the shofar to the Tibetan singing bowl, to accompany her playing,
although on most tracks there is a strong electronic influence.
On just one, Prolonged
Shofar Variations by Israel Philharmonic principal Yaacov Mishori,
is the horn out on its own, albeit with a fair amount of hand stopping
to provide a contrast in sound. This, and Thurlows own Sacred
Postlude, are both the shortest pieces and the nearest the CD
gets to conventional horn playing. Thurlow also puts her mark on the
second of her own compositions, The Chaotic World in which
she stamps out the Dies Irae, Dies Illae over everything from
a string orchestra to one of the earliest electronic instruments,
Clive Smiths Ancient
Future for horn, electronic guitar and devices has an intriguing,
atmospheric quality, but, in the longest piece on the CD, Eric Rosss
Serenade for horn, theremin, piano and devices, we are
arguably taken a bridge too far. The imitations and the improvisations
of the first movement are followed by an Esperanto vocal text in the
second and a horn, which is electronically processed and extended
Computer Music Journal - by Sandy Nordahl
"Deborah Thurlow’s compact disc I Am is a collection of six works for electronically enhanced horn. Eric Ross on theremin and Clive Smith on electric guitar accompany Ms. Thurlow on horn. Two of the pieces are composed by Ms. Thurlow, another by Mr. Smith, and one by Mr. Ross, with the remaining work composed by Yaacov Mishori for unaltered solo horn.
Mr. Smith’s Ancient Future is the first track on this disc. ‘‘Imagine a realm where, beneath their apparent differences, the horn and the electronics could exploit some of their shared qualities,’’ writes Mr. Smith. This is effectively accomplished through electronic processing and the use of extended techniques on the guitar to create an ambient space that sweeps through the harmonic spectrum. The horn’s modal style of improvisation is drenched in reverb and delay so that the long linear lines blur together to create a sustained quality that blends into the guitar texture. The theremin acts as a counterpoint, weaving in and out of the horn part but never imitating it. The overall effect is that of listening to a filter sweep through a densely harmonic texture.
Serenade, written by Mr. Ross, consists of two movements. ‘‘In the first, the instruments form a dialogue around fixed sections, comprising tonal, atonal, and serial elements, along with improvisational sections,’’ describes the composer. The players are asked to imitate human, animal, and instrumental sounds, as well as each other. These instructions lead the listener to expect some very specific things to occur with the human and animal imitations, while the theremin seems to be full of potential that is never quite realized. The instrumentalists’ imitations of one another during this movement don’t quite materialize either.
The second movement adds a vocal text, parts of which are written in Esperanto, a type of universal language. The horn is electronically processed to extend its range and timbre, according to Mr. Ross. This movement opens with some imitation of melodic material between the horn and the piano then quickly breaks off into a freely atonal improvisation section. About four minutes in, the text is introduced, and seems to operate without either being affected by or affecting the other instruments. Toward the end of the work the horn briefly breaks into a swing-style linear improvisation. What is fantastic about these first two pieces is that they were recorded live in front of an audience. You get the beauty of the enhanced and extended parameters of the electronic processing as well as the real-time flexibility, subtlety, and continuously variable parameters that analog instruments bring to improvised music. The response to unintended actions by players or electronics can lead to the possibility of unexplored ideas, which creates a very exciting atmosphere for both performer and audience.
The Chaotic World is appropriately titled. This is the last track on the CD and it juxtaposes several different styles. There are atmospheric textures, a fugue, jazz, and free improvisatory sections, atonal passages, a statement of the Dies Irae, and a three-part canon. The work is analogous to late-night channel surfing with the occasional off-air station, plus the ability to watch picture-inpicture. A variety of images change rapidly and abruptly, then eventually start over again. Within The Chaotic World there are places where worlds overlap, briefly co-existing in the same place at the same time. The horn continuing the contrapuntal material as the strings shift into a jazz vamp texture is one instance. The Dies Irae signals the introduction of the theremin, which moves into a free improvisatory section. The return of the vamping strings with the horn repeating the Dies Irae is another example of co-existing worlds. The Chaotic World leaves no room for ambiguity about the confusion that surrounds it. The episodic nature of the structure defines the chaos. However, the length and the completeness of each of the returning episodes is somewhat regular and tends to slow the momentum. When the horn and the strings come together to play a clear simple modal phrase it is like a camera coming into focus, but it quickly returns to the confused world that Ms. Thurlow creates.
Sacred Postlude is a haunting piece that combines ideas of prayer and meditation from two diverse cultures: Jewish and Tibetan. The work is from Ms. Thurlow’s debut New Age CD entitled Angelic Waves. This is a fantastic New Age work—simple, dark, and haunting with the elegantmodal theme of the Avinu Malkeinu, a Hebrew prayer played by the horn. The Tingsha begins the piece just as it would signal the beginning of meditation. It also signals the end, framing the piece with a clear, brilliant tone. A Tibetan singing bowl creates a mellow bed of sound for the shofar and horn to bathe in. New Age at its best!
Prolonged Shofar Variations, composed by Yaacov Mishori, is based on quotations from Jewish prayers and biblical cantillations. This work is for solo horn without electronic processing. The writing centers around the Phrygian mode with an occasional borrowed flatted fifth degree. Chromaticism, and pitch bending occur very briefly in the piece as well. The sudden modal modulation up to the third degree with its arpeggiated major triad gives a lift to the music that seems to look toward the heavens.
Overall, this disc is an impressive endeavor. Ms. Thurlow really knows how to create a mood that hangs thick, like a fog clinging to the ground on a cold, full-moon night."