As a flutist and composer who has spent years investigating non-Western and extended instrumental techniques and incorporating electronics into his own music, Jos Zwaanenburg is the perfect exponent of these adventurous works —all of which explore ways in which the flute is able to interact with and affect an electronic component in real time. In essence, these composers have adapted the Cagean principle of indeterminate performance by devising distinct computer programs whereby the electronic sounds are triggered in various ways by the sounds produced by the flutist, which in themselves may be suggested, implied, or improvised, leading to an unpredictable sequence of musical events.
The more traditional, if you will, of these works, allow the flute to function in a recognizable, reasonably melodic fashion. In Broken Mirrors, by Greek composer Efthymios Chatzigiannis, Zwaanenburg plays an open, freely pitched line reminiscent of the Japanese shakuhachi, as electronic sounds envelop and mix with it, creating multiple layers of composed and reorganized patterns. Paul Dibley’s Organ Grinder has specific notes on the flute cueing either repetitious or floating phrases, plus manipulated samples of various types of portable organs, in a carnival of effects.
The remaining works are even more complex, however, and —gleefully, it seems—raise questions of musical relationships and intent. Stephen Cornford’s Flute Feed is nearly a half-hour of sustained tones, breathy echoes, phantom pitches, whistling, humming strings, and fluctuating, overlapping frequencies produced by the flute’s signal being rerecorded and fed through the piano, inducing the strings to resonate in a manner that suggests an environmental, rather than compositional, cause and effect. Paul Whitty does not explain how the flute is responsible for affecting the electronics in his two works, and the results are complicated and no doubt intentionally confusing. Does the Body Rule the Mind… takes a particularly aggressive tack; if any actual flute sounds occur, they are obscured by industrial-strength electronics, a rough, grainy, dense fabric of drones, buzzing and grinding motors, etc., with little respite. Has the World Changed… offers a somewhat more varied palette, albeit in an equally complex stew, with thin, transparent textures and varied dynamics, but unrecognizable sound sources, washes and wave forms, and sharp, pointed electronic percussives from which the distorted flute emerges, escaping from the flux only briefly.
In these latter works, the nature of the sounds and the ways they are produced suggest that we may have reached the boundaries of one type of post-Cage musical activity (that is, if it can be argued that artistic activity has any boundaries or categories whatsoever) and entered into another, which we might call “sound phenomenon.” Perhaps drawing upon the examples of the Futurists, Dadaists, and other specific non-musical practitioners who included the use of “noise” as a musical resource, there are creators who distinguish themselves from musicians or composers by identifying themselves simply as sound artists. Certainly, Jos Zwaanenburg and the others represented here are straddling whatever line might be drawn.