Curium: Nowever

So much electronic music purposefully eschews programmatic content, it's refreshing to encounter a project that embraces it with such fervour. On Nowever, Evan Sornstein (aka Curium) pays homage to E.E. Cummings by backing 22 poems with complementary electronic landscapes. Wisely, Sornstein refrains from reciting the poems himself and instead commissions a multitude of contrasting voices—his five-year old nephew, a friend's 85-year-old grandmother, speakers from Nicaragua, England, France, Italy, Germany, Taipei, Glasgow, and California—to deliver them. Sornstein doesn't match voice to poem arbitrarily either but rather tailors a particular piece to an individual based on personality and speech pattern, thereby producing settings that become portraits of the speakers as much as Cummings.

Curium's gleaming melodies and crunchy beats evoke early Morr Music while the brightly chiming synth tones occasionally recall Eno; natural sounds (birds, rain) also expand the sonic palette in particular settings (“yes is a pleasant country”). Curium's music parallels the texts in unfolding fluidly without recourse to overly fixed structures, resulting in a consistently engrossing hour-long suite that's neither song cycle nor spoken word but some unusual amalgam of the two. Only one caveat: in light of Sornstein's self-professed sensitivity to a given speaker's accent, it's disappointing to encounter an at-times excessive degree of voice manipulation (the child's voice in “who are you, little i,” for example, hardly requires such treatments). Such distortion seems an unnecessary and indulgent tactic when the natural delivery of the recitations already works so well. I wonder if, ten years from now, Sornstein won't look back and wish he'd allowed the natural nuances of the voices to stand alone.

August 2006