by Malcolm Miller
'If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run…' The idea of commissioning sixty pieces each a minute long has elements of both ingenuity combined with madness: can a creative artist have anything serious to say in just one minute? Can a listener gain anything in such a short time span?
The answer is yes if one may go by the individual contributions to 60x60, a project in its third year, whereby composers are invited to submit minute long pieces in digital format with the prospect of being included in the hour long presentation -- concert -- CD. A minute can be ample time to express a whole gamut of imaginative sounds, or it can be a constraint which forces an artist to isolate what is the most important element of a work. The point of the project is that it enables an audience to take in and enjoy a cross section of different approaches to new music within a reasonable duration. And the purpose of Robert Voisey is to promote new music...
Voisey's own input is compositional -- he organises the sixty works into a coherent and dramatic continuity and it is this which can enhance the individual works. In this 60x60 2005, there are a range of approaches, some are purist electronic works, some use electronics and electro acoustics only minimally; some are atonal and postmodern, some are tonal, modal and jazzy, some clearly in the pop and film music genre. Of the electro acoustic works which make up the majority, several use sampling and play with the notion of the original acoustic instrument, whether a string instrument (violin, viola, double bass) or piano and marimba. Some of the pieces were clearly witty, some essays and experiments, some ambitious and some simple.
Voisey struck an arresting note from the start with two pieces that echo racing cars surging round a track. The first was created from samplings of viola note bending, the second was a more complex computerized sound generating programme. There followed three works exploring manipulated string sounds, one of which was clearly tonal.
As a contrast the next five pieces combined voice with transformations: one was a plangent ostinato, the next a witty exchange between students, the next a jazz riff farmyard polyphony and a pop piece. After a few minimalist pieces, which showed little change in a minute, the possibilities of the small scale were shown to great effect by Noah Creshevksy's witty and imaginative piece, immediacy of effect. The following pieces 16-20 were all engaging exercises in electronic sounds, distortions, metallic shimmers, bell sounds broken into noise and janglings.
More instrumental sampling ensued, appealing and stimulating -- piano music created out of one note that is transformed, a brilliant scenario for double basses. Of those pieces using minimal electronics was a jazz number for father and son; there was some ethnic cross-culturalism and a witty use of speech interrupted by regular phone rings, all of which had more to do with music theatre.
Several works had a more serous significance relating to memory and memorials: 32-33 38, 32 and 33 used Hebrew, the first piece with a cantor and a piano and bass accompaniment yet all filtered through electronic layers of sound; the second, 60 seconds in memory of 6 million, blended layers of the Kaddish prayer; Robert Gluck's one-minute environmental soundscape of Prague (composed there on a recent visit) was eloquently paced with samples of cobbled streets, pacing through buildings and open air, a Czech conversation, to give a sense of 'being there'.
Jazz pop minutes by Alex Shapiro and others lightened the tone and made the hour pass with delight. Outstanding were two essays using piano and marimba as sources (46 and 48) while of the pure electronics, George Brunner (51) was immediately stimulating -- its varied palette of sounds. The last two pieces were overtly political, and as a witty ending, Unwelcome looped a soundbite from George Galloway's speech to the American Senate tribunal in an ironic, punchy miniature.