Jorge Variego (cl, b cl, computer)
No Clarinet Input.
They say you can’t tell a book by its cover. That’s certainly true of this release, which sports a colorful illustration of childlike drawings pinned to a wall, suggesting that the music contained within would be suitable for a toddler’s naptime or a birthday party sing-along, when in fact the program consists of highly sophisticated and challenging electroacoustic works by Argentinean composers ranging in age from 72 to 30-something. The album title too, I suppose, is meant to be taken with the same ironic grain of salt, since the music is hardly indicative of a regressive approach to composition—although the concept does come out of a tradition of instrument-plus-tape or -electronics that includes another, pioneering Argentinean composer, Mario Davidovsky. (No reference to Davidovsky, or any other precedent, or for that matter any biographical information about the composers, is to be found in the exceptionally sparse annotation.) This is clarinetist Variego’s second solo disc; the first,
(Albany), was called “an impressive, audacious debut” by Michael Cameron in
34:1, while in the same issue Raymond Tuttle admitted it was “terrifically interesting” but primarily to “clarinet nerds” and other “unusual” listeners.
Nearly all of the works here result from the combination of “live” clarinet or bass clarinet, computer processing to manipulate or multiply the clarinet sound in real time, and what is described as “fixed media”—a previously composed and recorded tape or electronic component. Moreover, there are other similarities, in that each creates what could be described as a dramatic sound environment rather than a conventional compositional structure, therefore more spontaneous and unpredictable, and offering a breadth of surprising colors and textures. But there are distinctive qualities as well. Claudio Lluán’s
(2010) offers the most lyrical, albeit circuitous, clarinet contribution, even as the solo instrument is shadowed by processed echo effects. Daniel Schachter’s
(2012) features indeterminate modular, interactive scored elements, a dense forest of processed clarinets, and a playful, mechanistic ambience.
(2010) by Dante Grela Herrera (here credited simply as Dante Grela H.) provides a polyphonic fabric, with a congestion of attacks from different spatial directions, extended clarinet techniques, and hollow, metallic electronic timbres. Martin Gendelman’s
(2012) contrasts florid bass clarinet lines with impassive programmed electronic responses, while
No Clarinet Input
(2012) by Santiago Diez Fischer inhabits a subterranean world of microscopic details, asking the listener to “abandon the belief of familiar sounds.” Finally, the jazz implications of Variego’s own piece,
(2012)—computer-generated piano and percussion accompanying the bass clarinet’s breath-and-reed-distorted tone and out-of-synch lines—reveal no audible relation to the punning reference (to jazz innovator Ornette Coleman) of the title.
Valley City State University and the North Dakota Council of the Arts, both of which partially funded this recording, deserve kudos for their support of such fascinating, adventurous music. And I agree with Michael Cameron, Variego
an artist to watch.