SEAMUS 2008 in Salt Lake City

SLC mountainsSEAMUS 2008 took place in the dramatic setting of the University of Utah, surrounded by the Wasatch, Oquirrhs, and Traverse mountain ranges. Spectacular scenery outside, spectacular music inside. Thirteen concerts in three days may seem a trifle too spectacular, but there were plenty of gaps in between, filled with eating and drinking, talking and laughing; listening fatigue was very little an issue.In the lobby

The setting was significant, for this year’s SEAMUS spotlighted the music and teaching career of Vladimir Ussachevsky, who taught for twenty years at the University of Utah. The first half of concert four was a rare performance of Ussachevsky’s Colloquy for symphony orchestra, tape recorder and chairs. (Yes, that would also have been delightful, but in this context “chairs” refers only to the various soloists in the orchestra.) Colloquy is a kind of Young Person’s Guide to Tape Music, with fairly ordinary orchestral licks transformed in various intriguing ways by tape manipulation.

Gardner HallThere was quite a preponderance of instrument+ and video+ at the 2008 conference, with all the variations of presenting these combinations, as you’d expect from such an active, curious, questing group of people (the connotations that the word academic should have). Two of the more intriguing for me were Tsai-Yun Huang’s Imaginary Place (with Tzu-Feng Liu, piano), which struck me as being two separate but related pieces playing at the same time, and David Kim-Boyle’s Canon (with Ning Lu, piano), in which the piano just stops right before the end and the video continues in silence as it slowly fades to black.

There were several old friends there (both people and pieces); it’s great to see old friends, of course; it’s also good to hear pieces again, in different rooms, with different sound systems and different diffusions.

I cannot begin to give an adequate account of the thirteen concerts of the 2008 conference, nor, I trust, would anyone want to read such a prolix account. So with sincere apologies to many fine composers, I will give a brief nod to some of the highlights, for me, of this conference.

Main stageTom Lopez’  Espaces Pointillés opens with a flute (Carlton Vickers) playing all the things flutes do so well, including notes. The electronics, once they finally come in, are loud and sudden (and behind us), and mostly with material from the live opening section, vastly amplified, leading then to a quiet, reflective bit to end with.

In Veiled Resonance, by Elainie Lillios,  the high, breathy, whistly kinds of sounds from the solo saxophone (Stephen Duke) are very quickly sent to the speakers. The soloist also must stomp on the (nicely resonant) floor of the stage–live thumps to go with the thumps coming from the speakers.

Stacy Borden’s 12 Wings, Linda Antas’ Stand, and Martin Bedard’s Topography of Darkness were all three back to back in one concert, a bold and enlightening programming decision, for they all three use some of the same electroacoustic tropes, really rich, resonant sounds and dramatic thuds and such, but are all otherwise remarkably different. (Linda’s piece was also way too short. I wanted more, anyway.)


Keith Kirchoff played piano in his own The Adventures of Norby. Piano and other percussion, including a large block of wood (though that may have been a box, I don’t recall). The piano is pretty vigorously slapped about–quite a lively and entertaining piece.

Mikel Kuehn’s Redux (with cellist Amy Leung) starts off with Amy thumping and tapping on the body of the cello. When these sounds begin coming out of the speakers, she then plays with the bow and strings. Simple design, but effective.

Tower of Babel (Jacob Gotlib) is full of lovely, resonant sounds, dry clicking sounds, electronic grit, and lots of door sounds–hinges, shutting (along with the echo one gets, especially when shutting a door in a large, empty room). Lots of changes from one state to another–no chance for one’s attention to stray in this piece.

Also resonant, with a creaking hinge and loud door slam to end it, was Collection by Michael Pounds.  Consistent with its name, Collection had trains, rain, miscellaneous machinery, birds, people in large numbers in large rooms, and lots of low frequency rumbling.

Contact Clusters, by Thomas Dempster,  moves from percussion to strings to bells to electronic throbbing to percussion, with a bit near the end whose propulsiveness matches that of similar sections in Partch’s Delusion of the Fury. (I hope that that doesn’t seem simply tautological.)

Paul Riker’s Cubicle has not only the ringing phone, clattering typewriter, and the assorted other clatters and clangs one might expect in an office, but also a barking dog. As the typewriter sounds become more and more like hail, there also appear some thundery noises–the dog reaches gigantic proportions, as does the echoey room it’s barking in.

Butch Rovan’s Correspondences is for video and electronics. The images did indeed correspond to the music. Both music and images were quite compelling; I was most impressed that the images never detract from the music, as images often do in video/music pairings.

The Friday evening concert (number eight) was all Madeleine Shapiro–all except for a piece for tape and flute. I had heard one piece, Paul Rudy’s Vastly Shrinking Space (a vastly engaging piece) on CD; it’s much more thrilling live, of course, and, fortunately, the recording now gains some extra excitement from me having heard it live.

Also thrilling, with some pretty outrageous cello licks, was Guillermo Galindo’s TX3.  Several months after hearing this piece, I picked up a CD by gal* in_dog, which was quite entertaining. Only some reading later revealed that gal* in_dog is a pseudonym of Galindo, G.

Remains only to mention another piece (Changes in the Summation) by Jason Bolte, whose And death… so impressed me at the 2007 EMM. And Anna Clyne’s energetic and exuberant ON TRACK, for piano (Heather Conner) and electronics, Scott Wyatt’s Of grey twilight, with more contrasts of dynamic and mood than one would expect from a piece so titled, and Dennis Miller’s White Noise for miscellaneous images at different transparencies (or opacities) and beautifully harsh music, images mostly swirling about independently of the music but sometimes exactly coordinated, as with the amoeba-like object that shoots out rays each time a particularly harsh sound sounds.


The cost of attendance for non-members to SEAMUS conferences works out to a little more than fifteen dollars per concert, well worth it. Check out the SEAMUS site at least once a year around March to see if the conference is happening near you–it’s a great chance to hear a lot of fine, new music in a short span for very little money. And there’s also the embarass de richesse of fine composers and performers to rub elbows with.

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