In the weeks following the inaugural lectures of the New England Conservatory Young Composers Forum (NEC YCF), it is apt to consider how seemingly familiar concepts, such as feedback, can be new again. Paul Clift's demonstration on November 15th, 2010 to a small audience in Pierce Hall how he -- with the help of a choreographer and several IRCAM engineers -- can exploit electro-acoustic concepts in his multimedia work, With My Limbs in the Dark.
Clift addresses questions of spacialization by fitting a mixed ensemble of acoustic instruments with speakers and microphones. He also outfits a dancer with two small speakers and a microphone on either hand. As a sort of meta-musician, the dancer’s carefully choreographed movements interact in rotation with each instrument, adding rich feedback and other effects to an otherwise conventional instrumental texture. Initially bewildering sonorities begin to solidify with each repeated exchange, constructing a loose, internal form, which perpetually entices the ear.
The piece reaches a bold peak when acoustic and electronic sounds arrive at a satisfying amalgamation of extended, pure, buttery noise. The climax, although dependent on conventional instrumentation, utilizes the complex timbres born from these live electronic interactions, which shape this peak that is simultaneously static yet infinitely variable.
Paul Clift’s highly inventive ensemble yields results that are at times lush and familiar, yet often illusive in execution. His path towards spacial exploration undoubtedly connotes Spectralist interest while also discovering the experience of resonating bodies set in motion -- a sentiment closely akin to that of the New York School of composers. Clift’s careful consideration of these disciplines allow the events within With My Limbs in the Dark to speak through the science -- not in spite of it.
Vanessa Wheeler is a composition major at NEC currently studying with Lyle Davidson and Kati Agócs.