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Memory Like Water

by Matt Rogalsky
XI records, New York, 2006
Audio CD, 2 disks, # XI 130CD, $13.00
Distributor’s website: http://www.forcedexposure.com/labels/xi.html.

Reviewed by Stefaan Van Ryssen
Hogeschool Gent


In the booklet that accompanies these CD's, Thom Holmes, author of Electronic and Experimental Music, states:

"Matt Rogalsky (b. 1966) is also a tinkering composer who works with electronic instruments from the inside out to realize his musical ideas. His work is based largely on the use of software of his own design and depends on real-time interaction between performers and computer-generated sounds" (p. 8).

This quote seems neatly to summarize the starting formula for Rogalsky's work: improvisation + technology = sound material. This needs no elaboration since it covers vast areas of electro-acoustic music production. However, it leaves out any reference to aesthetic considerations. We need a second formula, governing the treatment of that material: structure + continuity = composition. How is that? What structure? What continuity? And how do they add up to a composition? To start with the latter question: a composition, at least in Rogalsky's aesthetics, is a set of choices within a practically unlimited field of possibilities. Composing is a strategy rather than following a recipe of adding ingredients in a bowl, stirring and baking (or in these CD-days: burning). The difference lies in the fact that Rogalsky always keeps in mind that other choices would have been possible. That by choosing one road, other directions are left unexplored. None of his pieces try to keep up the appearance of being compulsory, ultimate, or necessary in any way. Quite on the contrary, each recording is just one instance of a larger universe of possible developments of the chosen material in the chosen structure. Harmonic progressions, the stock and trade of most of his pieces, are actualised possibilities pointing at numerous other possible choices within a four-dimensional space. One might say that a single piece is merely a representation of one of many musical subspaces and the listener is invited to imagine the more remote areas of that space by herself.

The seven tracks on these two CD's share structural strategy: Some real life sound source — whether it be a violin, steel stringed guitars or a radio set — is captured, transformed, micro-sampled and fed back into a gradually shifting polyphonic structure. The timbre is derived mainly from the original material, but the architecture is Rogalsky and his software. Usually, he limits his explorations to rather narrow bands within the continuum of possibilities in the four dimensions of sound, forcing the audience to actively and attentively listen rather than to take in subconsciously. Of course this smells of Xenakis, as Thom Holmes rightly observes in the liner. And of course this also reminisces of other composers of the Experimental Intermedia stable like Phill Niblock. But does that mean that Rogalsky doesn’t deserve a place of his own under the electro-acoustical sun?



Updated 1st December 2006

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