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    Eleanor Hovda – The Eleanor Hovda Collection

    Eleanor Hovda - The Eleanor Hovda Collection

    Eleanor Hovda (1940-2009) was a fairly obscure American composer of post-minimal, early spectral works that spanned in time from the 1960s through the 2000s. After studying under such luminaries as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Kenneth Gaburo, she began to probe the inner qualities of sound, forging a body of highly subtle, often sparse, spatial music–most often in the context of modern dance performances. Inspired by the likes of John Cage, Morton Feldman, Pauline Oliveros and Japanese music, all of her own work totally flows and breathes, sounding for all the world like the best dream state free improvisation–even though it’s all meticulously composed. Basically, it’s short on melody and big on texture–just the way I like it–easily earning a place among the best slow-motion acoustic soundscapes out there. Hopefully, this definitive 4-CD set should help raise Eleanor Hovda’s profile outside of the concert halls of academia.

    Originally released on O.O. Discs back in 1998, “Ariadne Music,” technically known as disc one, is humanhandled entirely by the Prism Players ensemble. These pieces were composed from 1984-1994, and concern themselves with “sound energy spun into resonant thread and uncoiled from its source. The trail is unbroken, as the sound-skein, loosened and tightened, changing texture and resonance, threads its multi-directional path.” The opener “Onyx” sets the mood and the listener aloft with a minimal swirl of strings in the background. Then, in a cruel twist of flute, that instrument suddenly appears and stabs you in the eardrums in the most loud and painful way, forming the perfect segue into a sublime, dissonant scrapefest. Four more tracks follow suit, proffering rising and falling bird squawks and yodels, darkly rumbling drones or loud, repetitive riff pulses.

    Titled “Coastal Traces,” which also debuted on O.O. Discs back in 1998, the music on disc two is played entirely by three people: Libby Van Cleve on double reeds, Jack Vees on bass and guitar and Eleanor Hovda herself on grand piano innards. It was written to accompany modern dance by the Nancy Meehan Dance Company. The sounds range from sublime string drones with piping flutes and inner piano string strum to free jazz-like double reed skronk with wailing freeform vocals to sparse atmospheric ramblings to cold, icy drones into almost trance rock-like pulsing with morning flute and sparse atmosphere and all kinds of deeply plucked piano spring vibrations with droning and squeaky ambience.

    Each track on disc three, “Sound Around the Sound,” hails from the 1980s (except the last one), and is played by a different ensemble. Relache opens the disc with “Borealis,” full of deep, resonant Ellen Fullmanesque drones that slowly morph into fluttery morning music and on into a loud swirlfest. Says the composer: “I see the Aurora Borealis as curtains or ribbons of active energy moving in place rather than traveling.” In “Boundaries,” which compares the difference and similarities between flute and bass, four full flutes hover over four pulsing basses and make their way into an acoustic cloud. What’s not to like? During “Cymbalmusic,” Eleanor herself splays out a nine-minute shimmering ‘n’ screeching mist on nothing but double-bowed cymbals accompanied by a humming audience!

    Moving in “breath or process timing–the time it takes to do something, rather than in metric or clock timing,” a chamber ensemble tackles “Journey Music” and fills it to the brim with quiet scratching and swirling with a bit o’ minimal string pulse. Don’t stop believin’. The Cassatt String Quartet turns “Lemniscates” into a super quiet and wispy atmosphere that delves into louder droning, swirling and frenetic minimal sawing. Regarding this piece, the composer states: “I am interested in magnifying stillness so that the sounds around the sound can be more clearly experienced.” The California EAR Unit leaves the “Regions” of California for some quiet, minimal string drones and pulsing disrupted by a pissed off, slashing flute–all inspired by “gradations of opaqueness to clarity; complexity to simplicity.”

    The final disc, “Excavations,” is so named for the composer’s excavation of the properties of sound itself. Hailing from 1973 all the way to 2001, these tracks got plucked from many points in the composer’s timeline. Each one except the closer is scored for a solo instrumentalist. Based on fractal geometry, “Jo Ha Kyu” presents the Attack of the Squaking Free Jazz Oboe plus heavy breathing accompaniment. Employing “three dimensional concepts of breath time versus linear time within spacetime,” one of Eleanor’s Japanese Zen-inspired pieces, “Ikima,” is chock full of breathy bouts of a solo shakuhachi blowtorch. Composed for “process (or breath) time versus clock (or pulse) time, as well as evolving notation for energy shape voicings and timbre and textural orchestration of the sound around the sound,” the aptly titled “Breathing” presents quiet, breathy solo flute drones smothered with a bed of eight more wispy overdubbed flutes plus some occasional bratty outbursts.

    A solo harp workout called “Dancing in Place” offers the expected single note plucks and heavenly trills amid a whole mess of broken prepared strings just to throw you off. It “takes its name from the composer’s image of a choreographer describing a dance by using her (or his) hands as feet.” “Spring Music With Wind,” delves into the innards of a grand piano with rubber mallets and a bottle–only to produce an array of quiet rumbling ‘n’ screeching string tussle, squeals and moans. The whole 4-CD set closes with “40 Million Gallons of Music,” a very promising song title that really delivers in the form of a half-hour super sparse sprawler chock-empty of chimes, Gregorian chants, droning wind instruments, flutes drifting in and out of auditory view, cawing birds, airplanes, rainstick, accordion and more. The fact that it was recorded in an empty 40 million gallon water tank with a natural 60 second reverb makes it that much more amazing.

    Filled with “boundless imagination, laughter, a child-like delight in exploring sounds, originality, and an extremely serious yet utterly playful approach to work,” this set pulls together just a few of Eleanor Hovda’s gorgeous, under-the-top acoustic sound explorations, ripe for discovery by new generations. Comes with enhanced discs containing scores, full-length liner notes and extra photos–all for a bargain basement price.

    Label: Innova Catalog Number: innova 808 Format: 4-CD Packaging: Double Jewel Case Tracks: Disc 1: 5, Disc 2: 8, Disc 3: 6, Disc 4: 7 Total Time: Disc 1: 62:17, Disc 2: 62:16, Disc 3: 64:59, Disc 4: 70:31 Country: United States Released: 2012 More: Innova, My Big Gay Ears, New Music Box

    Text ©2012 Arcane Candy

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