Professor of Composition Anna Rubin's recital, given Wednesday evening in Finney Chapel, displayed works which evoked memories and emotions, ranging from the personal to the universal.
The four pieces on the program included both electronic music and pieces which combined pre-recorded material and live performances.
Rubin's mastery of the electronic and electro-acoustic medium was proven in the use of digital and studio manipulation to achieve very human qualities in her work.
Two of the pieces were "performed" entirely from tape. Crying the Laughing and Golden, which opened the recital, was composed and recorded in the early 1980's on analogue equipment. Consisting mainly of distorted and manipulated samples of a woman's voice, it varied greatly in volume and timbre, one minute a barrage of harsh sound, the next, calm and ponderous. The woman's voice was distorted beyond recognition throughout most of the work. Whispering became rhythmic exhalation, followed by laughter fragmenting to become a paranoiac, violent din. Crying the Laughing and Golden suggested the blur of one's primal emotions, brewing in the unconscious realm and only occasionally rising to the surface.
The second piece, entitled Family Stories: Sophie, Sally, was the most obviously personal of the four works, and also the most recent. It is based upon a narrative about Rubin's mother Sophie, and her upbringing by a black nanny, Sally. Like the previous piece, elements of feeling, memory, and nostalgia drift in a haze of sound. Rubin's narration as well as sound bites from the now-aged Sophie and "Sally" (represented by the actress Aleta Hayes) are sometimes clear as if you're in the room with them, sometimes fading into the background. The voices, as they relate memories of Sally tending to Sophie's hair, stories of racism and anti-Semitism in the South, often take on a wonderful harmonic, musical quality even though they are spoken word, thanks to digital altering. The inclusion of ambient samples of water and shattering glass, and elements of blues harmonica and klezmer music - so subtle as to often be barely noticeable - add to the highly emotional, moving quality of this honest, challenging piece.
Seachanges, included not only recorded elements but also a live performance on the viola da gamba by senior Loren Ludwig. Creating sonic pictures of the ebb and flow of the surf and the sea, the contrast between the contemporary quality of the computer-generated samples and the 17th century instrument were the highlight of this piece. The sounds of the beach were distorted and transmutated to those of a submerged piano while Ludwig played fragmented melodies that taken out of context might sound like noodling around, but in this case aptly evoked the unpredictable, lugubrious nature of its watery counterpart.
The final piece was preceded by two poems read by Oberlin alumna Marci Janas, one of her own invention, and one by the alumnus Bruce Weigl. Both of these poems echoed the subtleties and sensuous qualities of the music. Weigl's poem - in which an immigrant grandmother refuses to acknowledge the culture of the "old country" - especially drew attention to the recital's being dedicated the victims of Kosovo, as did the piece which followed it.
Remembering opened with computerized fragments of voice which, in listing battle sites and concentration camps of the Second World War, took on the aural qualities of battle and killing. This was juxtaposed against the quiet, wistful singing of Associate Professor of Voice Lorraine Manz, and the accompaniment of Assistant Professor of Piano Andrew Hisey. Eventually, all that remained was the live performance, in which Manz sang a setting of the Kiddush, a Jewish prayer for the dead, featuring fragmented melodic phrases and a complex ornamentation played by Hisey. When the recording rejoined the performance, it took on the quality of a melancholy ethereal choir singing a counterpoint to Manz.
What is remarkable about all of Rubin's pieces is that they succeed in evoking a highly emotional, natural quality - in both the music itself and the audience response - from music created and "performed" by the computer. The combination of these digitally altered sounds and the human elements, whether live or pre-recorded raise the compositions to a powerfully moving and gorgeous quality.
Copyright © 1999, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 127, Number 22, April 30, 1999
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