Ask composer Eric Moe to describe his music and he writes, “Although the surfaces and genres are varied, my works share a concern for rhythmic propulsion and a disregard for stylistic orthodoxies.”
“Uncanny Affable Machines,” Moe’s most recent recording project bears this description out vividly with a group of six recent solo pieces that, in Moe’s words, “offer various scenarios of human/machine interaction. Each of them features a lone human performer negotiating intersecting worlds of mechanical and human” – three of them performing with a pre-recorded track. The five lone humans featured on the disc are Yihan Chen, pipa; Lindsey Goodman, flute; Jessica Meyer, viola; Paul Vaillancourt, drumset; and the composer himself, an accomplished performer, on piano.
In three of the pieces, the soloist contends directly with an inflexible mechanical partner. “In these,” Moe says, “the electroacoustic parts often have an uncanny, superhuman rhythmic precision, but this is undercut by the nature of the manipulated sampled sounds, most of which have human-performed, bird-performed, or chaotic rhythms as part of their fabric. On the other side, the heroic human performer can be seen/heard herself as a ‘soft machine,’ to use William Burroughs’s phrase, wielding a low-tech but incredibly sophisticated and powerful acoustic instrument. The relationship between human and machine, high-tech and low-tech, biology and silicon, is a close and cordial one.”
- Uncanny Affable Machines (performed by Jessica Meyer, viola, with recording featuring samples of birds, kitchen utensils, environmental sounds, toy percussion instruments, and a splash of classic R&B) – “Performer and soundfile sound like they’re in different worlds,” Moe says, “but, as they swap material back and forth, it soon becomes clear that they’re inextricably linked. After some adventures, they ultimately get crazy together and give birth to a new form of being.”
- The Sun Beats the Mountain Like a Drum (performed by Yihan Chen, pipa, with recording featuring samples of world percussion and Delta Blues) “exploits extremes of expression and contrast,” using the pipa’s “large range of visceral performance gestures … with an in-your-face presence” to duet with a recorded part that is a collage of stylistic and cultural traditions. “Some of its high adventure,” Moe says, “lies in how these traditions collide, rebound, and are transformed and convoluted by one another.”
- Let Me Tell U About R Specials (performed by Lindsey Goodman, flute, with recording featuring samples of extended flute techniques and wait-person speech) – Moe describes this song as “a meditation upon a commonplace narrative – dining in a contemporary American restaurant.” Moe uses typical phrases from a server, such as “I’m Patti, I’ll be helping you out this evening” as the material for the electronic part. The flute part takes on a coloristic, narrative role, lending distance to and commentary on the experience.
The remaining three works on the disc “engage with the mechanical through the lens of conventional instrumental technique itself,” as the New Focus Recordings label describes.
- Cross Chop (performed by Paul Vaillancourt, drumset) begins with a quotation from the Surfaris’ classic “Wipeout,” and sets off on a perpetual-motion continuum evoking the surfing term of the title, “when a wind blowing sideways to shore disturbs the rhythm of the bigger waves rolling towards it, setting up a less predictable cross-rhythm.”
- Frozen Rain, Summer Dreams (performed by Eric Moe, piano) begins with “an emotionally chilly prelude … the plinking of ice pellets on crusted snowfields is evoked here by a (somewhat mechanical) pulsating high note which disappears with the beginning of Summer Dreams, a song without words based on a setting of a poem by Bill Kushner that evokes the nature tropes of classical Chinese poetry.”
- And No Birds Sing (performed by Eric Moe, piano) uses what Moe calls “a high tech virtual instrument,” a grand piano tuned with 19 notes in each octave. “The improbability of such a machine existing as an acoustic instrument is part of its appeal. The microtonal tuning is driven by expressive needs: dividing the octave into 19 equal intervals offers a wider palette of both consonance and dissonance than the common 12-tone equal temperament.”
Eric Moe writes music he enjoys playing, and otherwise plays music he wishes he'd written. The coming season holds a song recital featuring his music and that of David Del Tredici by Rob Frankenberry, tenor, and Moe as pianist (fall date to be announced, NYC). He is featured at a CD release party for Hayes Biggs, performing Biggs’s E.M. Am Flügel for solo piano (November 7, 2018, at Tenri Cultural Institute, NYC), and performs the premiere of David Del Tredici’s Monsters with Rob Frankenberry (March 27, 2019, at Casa Italiana, NYC). In addition, the Da Capo Chamber Players perform his Strenuous Pleasures for strings, winds, piano, and percussion (February 2, 2019, at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA, and March 14, 2019, at Merkin Concert Hall, NYC), and Moe joins Christine Brandes, soprano, for performances of selections from his Sonnets to Orpheus and Tough Songs (October 10, 2018, at Hertz Hall, Berkeley, CA, and March 30, 2019, at Pomona College, Claremont, CA).
Winner of numerous honors and awards, Moe is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh and founder of that city’s Music on the Edge new music concert series.
The composer of what the New York Times has called “music of winning exuberance” has received numerous grants and awards for his work, including the Lakond Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Guggenheim Fellowship; multiple commissions from both the Fromm and Koussevitzky Foundations; the Barlow Endowment, Meet-the-Composer USA, and New Music USA; fellowships from the Composer's Conference and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; and residencies at MacDowell, Montalvo Arts Center, Yaddo, Bellagio, Camargo, VCCA, UCross, Aaron Copland House, Ragdale, Hambidge, Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians, and the American Dance Festival, among others. Read more about Eric.
Yihan Chen was a prize winner of the 1995 Freedom and the 1989 Art Cup International Chinese Instruments Competitions. She has performed at major international festivals worldwide, including such as Spoleto Festival, Lincoln Center Festival, De Création Musicale de Radio France, Le Festival d’Avignon, and she has appeared at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress and other leading venues. Read more about Yihan.
Lindsey Goodman is a soloist, recording artist, chamber collaborator, orchestral musician, educator, and clinician. An advocate for living composers and electroacoustic music, Lindsey has premiered over one hundred new works. In addition to her solo albums reach through the sky (New Dynamic Records) and returning to heights unseen (Navona Records), she is featured in solo, chamber, vocal, and orchestral performances on a wide variety of recordings. Read more about Lindsey.
Jessica Meyer is a versatile composer and violist whose passionate musicianship radiates accessibility, generosity, and emotional clarity. As a soloist and member of the award-winning and critically-acclaimed contemporary music collective counter) induction, Jessica has premiered pieces for solo viola internationally – expanding the repertoire for viola by championing new works while also composing her own. Read more about Jessica.
Paul Vaillancourt is professor of percussion at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia, and has been a featured soloist with orchestras and ensembles and at festivals worldwide. He has performed with many contemporary music ensembles including Bent Frequency, Sonic Generator, Furious Band, The Fountain City Ensemble, the piano/percussion duo, STRIKE with pianist Jeff Meyer, and as a founding member of the newly-formed Zohn Collective. Read more about Paul.