KEMPER Mythical Spaces
Despite its ungenerous playing time, this is an intriguing disc of electroacoustic music. Steven Kemper (b1981) is Assistant Professor of Music and Technology at the Mason Gross School at Rutgers University and a former pupil of the late Elliot Schwartz (1936-2016). The works presented include a suite for prepared piano (The Seven Stars, 2012), a brief ‘fixed media electroacoustic’ piece, Breath (2015, originally composed as a film accompaniment), and two duos for electronics and acoustic instruments: Mythical Spaces, with percussion (2010), and Lament, with flute (2015). Most intriguing is In illo tempore (2012, rev 2017), a quartet reworking themes from Monteverdi’s 1610 Mass, scored for saxophone, bassoon and two musical ‘robots’, the Automated Monochord Instrument (AMI) and Cylindrical Aerophone Robotic Instrument (CARI). These electronica provide the base for the wind soloists to develop the thematic material in unexpected directions.
The purely electroacoustic piece, Breath, is the least compelling, its four uneventful minutes built from recordings of the composer breathing in: ‘Exhalations were discarded’! Similarly, the suite of miniatures for prepared piano, The Seven Stars – inspired by the segment of the constellation Ursa Major known in the US as the Big Dipper and in Britain as the Plough – is curiously earthbound, a set of studies, one per star, in texture (one sounds like a bee in a biscuit tin) with little musical cohesion.
Where Kemper is at his best is in the three works juxtaposing standard instruments with electronics, whether In illo tempore or the title-track, Mythical Spaces, the percussion textures coming closest perhaps to those artificially generated. That said, Lament, the flute part beautifully played by Wayla Chambo (for whom it was written), steals the show.