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MILLing in the ENNIUM (McLean Mix)

Tue, March 7th, 2006
9:00 pm

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Image of Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall

MILLing in the ENNIUM will be given by the McLean Mix, the internationally-recognized husband-wife composer-performer duo. This should be of special interest to all who are fascinated by unusual music and visual image in a unique blend of high tech with virtuosic performance.

Barton and Priscilla McLean (the McLean Mix) are classically-trained composer/performers who are exploring new means of integrating thematic interests such as nature, multicultural areas, and world history of the arts into their performance.

Two major works will frame the event:

The final “tour de force, AUTUMN REQUIEM, was created as a result of a McLean Mix artist residency at the iEAR Program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2001-2, with further support from an American Music Center Composer Assistance Grant in 2004. Its “requiem” thematic content was originally inspired by the tragic yet renewing nature of the fall season in the USA Northeast, with all its beauty, starkness, death, and eventual rebirth. The visual images are directly taken from Priscilla’s camera work of the fall of 2000 in the Mt. Kathadin area of Maine, and in Rensselaer County, New York. As the tragedy of September 11 unfolded during its composition, a new heightened awareness of the ideas of tragedy and renewal was in the minds of the artists as they continued to create their “requiem,” although a decision was made to not directly involve this event in specific details of the work.

The images and sounds, although derived from and inspired by one of the greatest displays of nature and color in the world, are nevertheless made more abstract, allowing the work to exist on many levels of perception, all of which can be realized and enjoyed simultaneously or upon repeated hearings.

The video portion (by Priscilla) was created in the McLeans’ home studio, with additional support from the iEAR studios in working with the Adobe Aftereffects video software. Also working at iEAR, Barton McLean developed a powerful audio processing system using elements of MSP software. The resultant live audio processing involves a gamut of delays, pitch shifting, sampling, resonators, filters, and granular synthesis (derived from Dan Trueman’s “Munger” patch), controlled live via a Slidemate MIDI controller. Equally astonishing is the number of unusual performance instruments, such as various bowed artifacts,amplified bicycle wheel, bells, flexatone, wind chimes, modified wind instruments such as a “clariflute” (clarinet mouthpiece with a recorder body), and experimental techniques on traditional instruments of voice, violin, and various flutes.

The lecture/concert opens with MILLing in the ENNIUM, a 19 minute audio-video excerpt from the 45-minute work comprising station #1 of the installation “The Ultimate Symphonius 2000,” a huge 8- station audience-interactive multimedia premiered at MASS MoCA for the Millennium celebration in February of 2000. To accompany the video, Barton McLean composed a music collage with synthesizer obligato. The collage technique, with a particular homage to Charles Ives, employs a constant stream of musics from many centuries and cultures, with the idea of seeking out their common sonic denominators. All musical excerpts are taken directly from the various sound stations of the installation. Priscilla McLean’s video, subtitled A Celebration of Fire, Earth, Air, Water and the Arts has a similar plan as the music — an historical collage of dance, artists in motion, drama, singers and instrumentalists performing, represented through the modern media of video and film and artfully mixed with the basic elements which allow for all life through the millennia to exist. The viewer catches glimpses of the Roman Empire, life in the Middle Ages, ancient Tibetan ritual dancing, a recent iceskating competition, the ancient technique of glass blowing but in a modern setting, our historic visit to the moon, timeless Chinese classical performers, a recent New England contradance superimposed on a 16th Century country dance, combined hands of a Japanese koto player, an English harpist, and an African American jazz pianist in a complex chroma- and luminance- keyed collage, ancient Aboriginal Formosan dancing inside a giant rising sun, while throughout the video key images of the elements, time and a Firebird dancer (from Stravinsky’s ballet) float through in a spirit of celebration tempered by philosophic thoughtfulness. Areas of spiritual closeness and soaring
dynamism abound.

The two middle works comprise music with video, and are shorter and more delicate in nature. JEWELS OF JANUARY, is the first of a set of four video & music pieces by Priscilla McLean titled SYMPHONY OF SEASONS. The video was taken in two locations: the icy January brook in front of the McLeans’ farmhouse in the Taconic Mts. of New York, and a group of large hanging icycles on Rte. 22 heading towards the Vermont border a few miles away. The video took three years to film, in order to get the exact right ice images in the ever-changing brook. The technique of combining images is accomplished through the Videonics Analog/Digital Mixer, and is the first video work created by McLean that uses all her own images. The music, realized on the StudioVision and Vision Sequencer, is a combination of recorded live performance, samples, and the WaveStation Synthesizer. A large metal sheet, loaned to the McLeans by artist Anne Lindsay, is suspended by hooks and bowed with a bass bow, creating a series of icy long pitches that underlie the work. Piano, clarinet, ringing glacial rocks, wind chimes are used extensively, and the piece ends with the actual stream sounds, but when melted in the spring.

JULY DANCE is a brief frolic with summer, with all the Northeast in celebration, from jiving birch trees to children playing with balloons. The composer accompanies all with her ad hoc percussion “table” of skinned firewood logs and croquet posts strewn upon resonators and placed in a neighbor’s 200-acre field, to dance with the blowing wind as she plays. The main video instrument used is a Videonics Digital Video Mixer. Some of the other amazing visual effects were created thanks to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, and their artist-in-residence 2001-2 McLean Mix commission and use of the iEAR Electronic Arts Studio. Priscilla McLean worked with Joseph Reinsel and the Photoshop Video After Effects computer program, which allowed McLean as percussion player to roll up in a ball and blow away in the wind! Besides the logs, other sounds are a wooden recorder and ocarina, a microphone cord and balloons squealing, a metal pizza pan, flexatone, violin — all performed by the composer, children laughing, and the Korg WaveStation Digital Synthesizer.

Of a McLean Mix event, Musical America stated, “The McLeans’ music has an immediate appeal by virtue of its colorful, impressionistic textures, poetic texts, and abundance of concrete sounds.” Keyboard, in a recent feature article, points out that “The McLeans may be leading the way toward whatever lies beyond with their powerful organic/synthetic sound mixes, and unorthodox…concept.”Of a recent concert of In Wilderness… in New York, Ear wrote, “While there are clearly two individual composers at work here, thematic continuity and the thick organic/synthetic sound mix leaves a lasting, unified impression.” Of the same concert, Kyle Gann of the Village Voice wrote “But the primitive momentum of these sound layers had its own cumulative power, and one eventually got swept up.” , and the N.Y. Times added “The McLeans made it easier to cope through their performance virtuosity and the evocative and sometimes dramatic nature of the music.”

Unlike many classical computer music composer-performers, the McLeans manage to prosper in what they do without benefit of any other full-time position, surviving principally on their music performance, having
performed performed extensively in all sections of the U.S. and European countries in such forums as the Zagreb International Muzicki Biennale. They have just returned from a concert tour of the South Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, The Philippines, and Hawaii). Recipients of six NEA grants, their music has been performed in most of the major music festivals of the world, such as Warsaw Autumn, Graz, Bourges, and Gaudeamus. They have a total of fourteen commercially-available LP recordings on the labels Folkways, CRI, Louisville Orchestra, Orion, Opus One, Advance, Centaur, MLC, as well as seven CDs on CRI and Capstone. Pioneering many of the electronic music techniques we now take for granted, they taught occasionally in major universities such as the Univ. of Hawaii, Univ. of Texas, R.P.I., and Indiana University.

During the rather informal event, the McLeans will talk about each work and will entertain questions from the audience.

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