George LewisMarch 23, 2021
By Ken Waxman
Although 1984 may not seem that far back, the tracks on this CD capture some of the first concerts George Lewis organized in Paris following his work at IRCAM that matched his interactive computer music with live improvisers. Culled from three days of performances, the high quality of the results is probably because, while the software was novel, each participant was experienced in close listening and sound interaction. Recorded as human-and-computer duets and finally a collective improvisation, the participants are British guitarist Derek Bailey, French bassist Joëlle Léandre, long-time American-in-Paris soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and Lewis’ AACM cohort Douglas Ewart playing bass clarinet, flute and bamboo flute.
Still in its earliest days of development, Lewis’ computer program usually function as an interactive keyboard projecting tremolo jiggles, swaying resounds, bell-like patterns and skittering accompaniment that could come from a celesta or an electric piano. In response the musicians respond with a mixture of powerful staccato string strums and buzzes from the bassist and guitarist or harsh or flexible trills and vibrations from the horn players that sweep around and between the programmed sounds, amplifying or challenging the computer prompts.
While each soloist creates a comprehensive rapprochement with his equipment, as a multi-instrumentalist Ewart produces the most expansive textures. His flute peeps and shrills expand the unvarying keyboard sprinkles while chalumeau bass clarinet snorts nearly recast the machine program as jazz-piano-like comping. On one track, he and Bailey joining the computer add metallic strums to the bottom, but focus is still on Ewart’s arching squawks and hums that produce an individual shade within the machine’s timbral color wheel.
During the lengthy concluding track, the four players appear to have worked out a final strategy with acoustic textures permeating the synthesized tremolo textures. Lacy’s duck-like yaps and violent slaps from Léandre are most prominent. But among the trills, squeaks and frails that intersect with the program, Ewart’s contributions stand out again with brief melodic interludes. Lewis has gone on to create more complex and distinctive electro-acoustic programs for his trombone and other players. But in order to track his progress it’s good to have these early efforts preserved,
Track Listing: 1. Spoken Introduction by George Lewis 2. With Joëlle Léandre 3. With Derek Bailey 4. With Douglas Ewart 5. With Steve Lacy 6. With Douglas Ewart and Derek Bailey 7. With Ewart, Léandre, Bailey and Lacy
Personnel: Douglas Ewart (bass clarinet, flute, bamboo flute); Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone); Derek Bailey (guitar); Joëlle Léandre (bass) and George Lewis (composer and interactive computer music)