Earl Howard

Clepton
New World 80670-2

Making the most of a concert situation at Germany’s Donaueschingen Musiktage 2006, American composer Earl Howard uses real-time processing plus 10 multi-programs on his synthesizer to complement and amplify – metaphorically and literally – sounds created by Georg Graewe’s piano, Gerry Hemingway’s drums and Ernst Reijseger’s cello.

This non-hierarchal texture-manipulation removes the barrier between composer and performer as well as combining background and foreground. Throughout the performance, for example, the pianist’s galloping soundboard echoes are matched by shimmering and ramping synthesizer buzzes, while in other spots a stately low-frequency keyboard line can have its origin in Graewe’s or Howard’s instrument. Rhythmic granulation of the drummer’s irregular flams and cymbal top resolutions by electronics or exposing sequences of spiccato slides and sweeps that may come from either four-strings-and-polished-wood or circuitry extends this strategy.

Piano key clipping and supple melodies, abrasive cello runs and measured drum slaps and bangs also exist independently as the synthesizer’s compressed, vocalized drones form a backdrop to them all. But the piece’s true definition is apparent when it’s impossible to follow any sound to its initial origin – or definition.

“Clepton”, the CD’s more-than-39-minute tour-de-force is followed by a short improvisation among the composer, German pianist, Dutch cellist and American percussionist. But it appears to merely be “Clepton” writ small. Filling out the disc is a 1989 Howard-Hemingway duet. Despite flanged burbles and crackles on Howard’s part and near steel-drum patterns from Hemingway, its clicking and clunking suggest how much more would be attained by the two with advanced techniques and more sophisticated electronics more than a decade-and-a-half in the future.

— Ken Waxman

— MusicWorks Issue #103