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Sonic Circuits 

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SONIC CIRCUITS

Since Peter Gena joined the faculty of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1983, the school has become a greenhouse for fascinating sonic hybrids--pieces employing tape playback, computer manipulations, site-specific installations, and other techniques. Gena, who's studied with the maverick Morton Feldman, also draws inspiration from the musique concrete movement and the prankster's aesthetics of John Cage; his presence at SAIC is doubtless part of the reason it's hosting the American Composers Forum's ninth annual Sonic Circuits International Festival of Electronic Music and Art. The program consists of six pieces, the oldest of which is Gena's Collagen and Bass Clarinet, written in 1987. The composer translated two computer-generated amino acid sequences from human DNA into six tracks of musical events, five played back electronically and the sixth performed live by a bass clarinetist (in this case, avant-jazz player Douglas Ewart). The reedist seems to be responding to the twittering, shrieking prerecorded material, and the whole piece slowly expands and contracts in density, hinting at underlying patterns too complex to grasp. Shawn Decker, a Gena protege who also teaches at SAIC, helped curate the festival, and he's represented on the bill by the serene, low-key Desert Travel no. 2. A "motorized string instrument" plucks piano wires stretched over guitar pickups, and Decker controls a digital software filter that dilates and modifies the sounds, creating slowly rippling tones reminiscent of temple bells. Richard Lerman, a professor of media arts in Arizona, often uses supersensitive contact microphones to amplify sounds of nature; in previous pieces he's recorded a lizard crawling on tree bark and miked a length of string to pick up the whistling of the breeze and the "footsteps" of an alighting dragonfly. At this concert he'll present two works: For Border Fences 2 he'll perform on his own jury-rigged instruments, including an amplified passport and compass, against a backdrop of eerie ambient sounds recorded along the U.S.-Mexico border--the noise of wind blowing over razor wire or dry grass, staticky speech, insects chirping. And for Changing States 6 he'll "play" five contact-miked metal objects--two harpsichord strings, two steel cables, and a film canister--with a butane jeweler's torch; as the metal rapidly heats and cools, it emits an unpredictable series of gamelanlike chimes, clangs, and growls. Rounding out the program are Nicolas Collins's The Scent of Mimosa, performed by Collins on voice and electronics and Kato Hideki on bass, and Renophuen, a collaboration by vocalist Jennifer Walshe and electronicist Jonathan Chen, who perform under the name Nolimetangere. Wednesday, May 2, 6 PM, ballroom, School of the Art Institute, 112 S. Michigan; 773-722-5463.

TED SHEN

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