CUBE marks 25 years with a plugged-in concert and two premieres

Mon Feb 04, 2013 at 10:46 am

By Gerald Fisher

CUBE, Chicago’s veteran new music ensemble, presented a diverse lineup of contemporary works Sunday at the University of Chicago’s Fulton Hall, marking the group’s 25th anniversary season. The role of computer-generated sounds accompanying live instrumentalists was given a fresh look and some old masters did not seem out of place in the mix.

Starting and ending with intriguing pieces by Howard Sandroff, longtime experimenter in computer-based electronic music, was a neat way to hold the program together. The opening pair of untitled pieces was a collaboration with fellow computer musician Ben Sutherland (both artists are UC-based) who was charged with rapping on two large bronzed sound sculptures looking for all the world like melted tortoise shells on sticks, with spikes projecting out of the rounded surfaces.

These electronically enhanced metallic objects produced a varied palette of sounds depending on what was striking them, hands or wooden sticks or violin bow. All of this was overlaid by computerized surround-sound swoops and blips which interacted with the performers. An uninvited telephone ringing from a nearby office provided a more personal sound in contrast to all the abstraction on the stage.

Sara J. Ritch’s Spiral Density (fixed media) was heard in its world premiere Sunday. The work takes its inspiration from–and attempts to express–pure mathematical theory. In this piece CUBE founder Patricia Morehead played oboe, gamely navigating some large graphs on three super-sized music stands against a computer electronic background which at times had the density of white noise or cosmic background radiation.

The program was salted with several shorter pieces, the earliest being Karlheinz Stockhausen’s In Freundschaft an assertive 1977 clarinet work in which the space between the sounds is as important as the sounds themselves. Alejandro T. Acierto’s solo playing was magnificent.

Patricia Morehead’s six-minute Elegy has already the feel of a masterwork. It is dark and emotional and was played sensitively by violist Michael Hall and pianist Philip Morehead.

But the small gem of the evening was Elliott Carter’s Figment IV for solo viola performed by Hall. This quicksilver piece, which is over in a flash (3 minutes), packs lightning changes in a short space and was performed scrupulously and with attentive detail by Hall.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle was another world premiere, John Elmquist’s Palaver and Palliative for English horn and piano. In this good-natured musical romp Patricia Morehead and Philip Morehead played with great rapport, on English horn and piano, respectively.

In Tephillah, a 1990 piece for clarinet and computer by Sandroff, the composer claims to create a new relationship for the soloist and the computer. Rather than the traditional duet between the natural and the electronic instrument, the performer on computer “plays” the live clarinet. The sonic result is that computer and clarinet are essentially one instrument.

After a system failure stymied the first attempt, the complex interaction was successfully initiated and Acierto and Sutherland began what could be called a conversation or dual monologue. It is hard to say who plays what as notes are tossed back and forth and phrases are initiated by one and carried on by the other, but the musical result certainly sounds unique.  Cast in three movements, the closing bars recollect the opening to form a satisfying conclusion.

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