Friday, October 25, 2019

Cold Blue “Single” of New Harp Solo by Robert Carl

from the Web page for the recording being discussed

Back in the vinyl days of the early Eighties, Cold Blue Music launched a series of EP “singles” to focus on a single composition (or, as founder Jim Fox put it, a “one-course musical meal”). This approach has now migrated to CD releases, again with the objective of presenting only a single work. The most recent of these was released today, presenting the harp solo “Splectra,” composed in two sections by Robert Carl.

Presumably, the title is meant to address the exploration of the spectral qualities of plucked strings. The longer the string, the more likely it will be for the ear to apprehend those qualities. In this case that string is the lowest string on a pedal harp. Carl’s notes identify this as a low C, which is probably the case; but, to pick a minor (pun sort of intended) nit, the way the pedals work means that when this is plucked as an “open” string, the pitch is actually C-flat!

The overtones of that string are captured and enhanced electronically. All digital processing is realized through a Max software patch designed and implemented by Carl and Matt Sargent. The harp itself is played by Alison Bjorkedal, and the score involves more than just plucking that lowest string. Rather, her part involves the exploration of a variety of different arpeggio patterns, whose pitches then blend with the electronic enhancement of the overtones of that lowest string.

At the very least, this is an imaginative way to bring real-time software into an instrumental performance. Personally, I was drawn into the recording enough to hope that, at some time in the future, I might have the opportunity to listen to this composition in performance. (I think that my last solo harp encounter took place at an end-of-term recital given at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where I am pretty sure there is sufficient digital gear to support a concert performance of “Splectra.”) The fact is that those electronic enhancements are subtle; and, at least in my case, it took a few listening experiences before I began to become aware of them (even with the advantage of a relatively solid command of the sounds of upper harmonics).

However, as one becomes more aware of those subtleties, one can also appreciate the role they play in bringing a unique rhetoric to what, on the surface, may mistakenly be dismissed as a mere technical exercise.

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