What the critics say about Edmund Campion's music
To this taste, the afternoon's most compelling new work was "Ondoyant et Divers," a sinuous and surprisingly sensual piece by composer Edmund Campion. The score assigns five instruments to each player, segregated by the type of material (wood, skin, metal, etc.) and then works a serios fo rippling patterns up and down the row of perfomers."
San Francisco Chronicle
Bu the most elaborate work on the program, and in many ways it climax, was "Auditory Fiction," an ingenious piece by UC Berkeley composer Edmund Campion that involved all four instrumentalists along with some newly developed computer software. That software fed a rhythmic "click track" into the ear of each peformer, so that they were playing related, or even identical, musical material at slightly different speeds. The result was that the players would float in and out of sync with each other at various points - coming together at a structural landmark, then verring off again. This is the sort of thing that can easily become indecipherable if the composer falls too much in love with his tools. But Campion keeps clarity and even beauty at the fore- the harmonic language is simple, and the metrical variationss just subtle enough to keep a listerner engaged.
The results were remarkable.
San Francisco Chronicle
The remainder of the program was made up of instrumental duos and trios, the most interesting and memorable of which was Edmund Campion’s From Swan Songs. Episodes of fast runs and scales were echoed and amplified, as each performer tended to distort and reinterpret what the other had just done. There was a sense of mutual discovery — a kind of dialogue about how the two instruments might relate to one another in strikingly new ways, while conjuring up a group of sound images that were both fascinating and beautiful.
San Francisco Classical Voice
Edmund J. Campion (b. 1957) was represented by ``Outside Music," a rambunctious piece for synthesizer and live instruments. The synthesizer is constantly invading the personal space of the instruments by duplicating their timbres. The piece ends, like Haydn's ``Farewell" Symphony, when the players leave the stage one by one, leaving the synthesizer, finally unattended, playing on all by itself.
Edmund Campion’s “Outside Music” (2005) had the benefit of humor. Scored for winds, harp, percussion, bass and synthesizer, it blurred the distinctions between acoustic and electronic instruments so thoroughly that toward the end the instrumentalists walked off, leaving the synthesizer player to produce all the necessary sound. (Even the keyboardist, Julie Steinberg, was expendable: when she left the stage, the synthesizer kept playing.)
The New York Times
My personal favorite of the evening was Edmund Campion’s stunningly nuanced Practice which showed the Dallas-born composer’s deep French roots, especially his study at IRCAM and with Gerard Grisey. It make a strong case that spectralism is one of the most promising avenues for this type of music. And, who knew you get such musical bang out of a triangle?
Sequenza 21/contemporary classical music portal
But the evening's most consistently interesting offering was the curtain-raiser, Edmund Campion's "Practice." Written last year for the American Composers Orchestra, this turned out to be a wonderful 10-minute exercise in orchestral color and abstract pictorialism.
Campion, who teaches in the UC Berkeley music department, often combines electronic technology with live performers, and the blend here seemed to be particularly subtle and evocative.
The electronic component is simple enough: a steady pulse created by the sound of two triangles subjected to computer manipulations. Against that backdrop, Campion writes big washes of orchestral sound, crashing and cresting in Debussyan waves.
The effect is something like a luscious and composed-out version of Terry Riley's proto-minimalist classic "In C," with its steady piano pulse. The triangles provide both a rhythmic grid and a tonal reference point, and everything in the piece occurs in relation to their sound -- either pushing back against it or, increasingly as the piece progresses, conforming to it.
San Francisco Chronicle
Campion's "Practice" for orchestra and computer, which opened the concert, was the evening's unknown quantity. It emerged a thriller. Written in 2005 for the American Composers Orchestra, the 11-minute work builds a driving, percussive wall of mechanistic sound shaped around the rhythmic lines established by a MIDI computer program and two live percussionists (playing triangle, and moving from side tiers onto the stage). Nagano led a precise, engaging performance.
Contra Costa Times
Surprisingly, the most successful piece of the night may have been ``Practice,'' for full orchestra and computer, by Edmund Campion, which began the program. Campion, who co-directs the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies at the University of California-Berkeley, has created a new MIDI-controlled musical instrument from the sounds of triangles, those ubiquitous little percussion instruments.
Their digitally processed sounds formed the music's jangling heart, around which the orchestra stormed, fluttered and flared -- ``practicing,'' as it were, beside this electronic presence. The MIDI sounds grew into a shiny obelisk at the center of Campion's sound-world, which, in its most quiet moments, conjured distant points of light in space.
His best work on the program came in Edmund Campion's Practice, the premiere. Nagano conducted this complicated piece effectively and made an excellent case for it. Campion, who has studied with the French composer Gérard Grisey, wrote Practice following some of the principles of the spectral music style. The composer's notes suggest that the work is intended to evoke an orchestral warm-up or practice session. With its emphasis on sonority and color, rather than melodic or harmonic development, Practice succeeds in this. Its sonorities are often extremely beautiful, from sinister and subtle ostinatos in the lower instruments to swirling harp and flute arpeggios to shimmering strings and beautiful clusters of sound in the winds and brass.
SAN FRANCISCO'S ARRESTING MODERN MILESTONES
One of the wonders of San Francisco and its cultural richness is that even on a slow Monday night, there can be two serious-music events of importance simultaneously---a significant concert of (mostly) new European works, and a superb memorial to one of the great local singers who died last year.
By Benjamin Frandzel (San Francisco Classical Voice)
UC Berkeley's Tempo Festival, a weeklong spotlight on musicians whose creativity is linked with technologies, continued last Tuesday with the music of UC professor Edmund Campion. Despite the bank of computers and their operators that lined the front row of Hertz Hall, and the wide-ranging investigation into their expressive possibilities, Campion's deepest creative concerns are really quite ancient, as he searches for alchemies between music and theater, text, movement, and ritual.
This connection with other idioms was most clearly and beautifully articulated in the concert's closing work, l'Autre. Written for two very busy percussionists, harp, horn, and speaking/singing vocalist, all amplified and frequently processed, the piece is a bold trip through worlds of sound and states of being. Campion's highly individual sense of form was at its most effective here.
Ferocious stretches of music were balanced delicately against each other — a brief diatonic episode could have as much impact as minutes of intense percussion work. Floating, processed vocals were built steadily before suddenly being cut off for a new section to emerge. The sudden changes and shifts were both surprising and right, with Campion's broader logic apparent at the end of this rewarding 20-minute work.
A Piece Without Electronics
Campion is essentially an impressionist, writing music based on gesture and its expansion, often accomplishing this with a refined sense of color and texture. Although electronic processing goes a long way in making imaginative colors possible, these possibilities were explored with equal success in the evening's sole work without electronics, Domus Aurea, for piano and vibraphone.
Small fragments and gestures begin the work, establishing a clarity that remain in effect even as the music unwinds into longer, more ornately beautiful lines. In an excellent performance by pianist Karen Rosenak and vibist William Winant, lovely counterpoint was balanced by strongly executed unison passages, as rapid runs and lengthy trills develop into more substantial ideas.
Campion's fascination with text — as pure sound, as a veil or vessel of meaning — is the basis for two works written in collaboration with his brother, poet John Campion. In Name Calling, a prelude to l'Autre, John Campion's text was first chanted by soprano Lauren Carley, then continued by the poet himself. Meanwhile Edmund Campion's sampling keyboard became more and more involved, playing back, in processed form, the names of endangered peoples that formed the text of much of the poem. Although on a much smaller scale than l'Autre, which followed, this prelude was just as compelling, a coherent synthesis between text as pure sound, entering the realm of music, and text employed for evocation.
Inventive Use of Computer Feedback
In two works, Campion also utilized real-time computer feedback for theatrical purposes as well as improvisatory inspiration. In Corail, saxophonist Vincent David , standing in the middle of the hall, began playing simple diatonic figures. As he wove his way into more dissonant territory and extended techniques, the speakers lining the edge of the hall echoed him with changing timbres and at different rates, until, in an effective closing touch, David simply walked to the stage and exited out the back.
Campion's vision was a little less clear in the works that began both halves of the program. In Sons et Lumières, early film footage of everyday scenes was projected around the hall, from one wall to the next. A player piano and shadowing pianos, heard through surrounding speakers, provided the music, in an often beautiful mix. But the connection between music and visuals seemed only peripheral, until the very end, when repeated high notes were coupled poetically with an early dance film.
Campion's Natural Selection used similar technology to respond to his improvisations on a midi-equipped piano, with the computer's responses circulated around the room. Campion's connections to his collaborators were again less clear. Choreographer Carol Murota sent her dancers running through the hall as their names were called, finally leaving Campion alone on stage to produce a lengthy structured improvisation, until a text heard over the speakers framed the work.
It's rare to find a composer looking so intently for inspiration in nonmusical realms and clearly finding it. The search for new forms was always apparent. Even in moments of lesser success, the search itself was rewarding.
(Benjamin Frandzel is a Bay Area musician and writer. In addition to writing concert music, he has collaborated with dance, theater, and visual artists, and has written about music for many publications and musical organizations. He is currently a graduate student in composition at San Francisco State University.)
©2001 Benjamin Frandzel, all rights reserved