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Tube Mouth Bow String

by Nick Didkovsky
Pogus, New York, 2006
Audio CD, 46’21". $14.00
Pogus 21042-2
Distributor’s website: http://www.pogus.com/.

Reviewed by Stefaan Van Ryssen
Hogeschool Gent


Tube Mouth Bow String: Music for electric guitar, string quartet, computer and live electronics is a collection of five chamber music pieces sharing a quasi-minimalistic, spectral aesthetic. The predominant parameters of these compositions, for the listener at least, are timbre and texture, requiring intensively focused listening in quiet surroundings. Preferably one keeps a pen and paper at hand to take notes in order to unveil the structure of each slowly evolving and unfolding piece. But even then, the underlying compositional methods aren’t easily exposed. At times, one gets the impression that the musicians are improvising within a framework of set rules, at other times, the subtlety of the microchanges are such that it is hardly imaginable that they have any freedom at all. This is exactly the point. Nick Didkovsky’s compositions are continuously playing with the thin differences between improvisation and full-score music. At times, he lets a computer program and synthesizer perform a piece only to write it down and have the score performed by live musicians afterwards. In some other instances, the performers have considerable freedom in interaction and interpretation.

By far the most interesting is the title piece. The sound of the strings is picked up and sent through a plastic tube into the mouth of the performers. The score prescribes how they are to change the timbre of these bowed sounds by mouthing certain vowels, which results in a very organic sound quality, subtly coloured and gradually shifting in an utterly unpredictable way. It is just an example of the creative ways Didkovsky follows to blend human and machine elements into one focused, surprising but always meaningful and coherent sound image. Similarly, ‘What the Sheep Herd’ (sic), allows a user to modify eight voices of independently looping melody. Each voice can be turned on or off and shifted in pitch. The start and end points of the looping can also be changed. (An online version gives the reader an idea of the richness of this seemingly strict set of choices: http://www.punosmusic.com/pages/whydontyouwriteme.) In the recorded version, the string quartet plays some of the voices along with the computer and the composer comments: "Performing this as an ensemble is a challenge in mediating between individual choices and the overall arches of the piece. Tending to each voice feels like herding a flock of sheep, nudging strays back into the fold of coherency."



Updated 1st September 2007

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