Carl Stone: Al-Noor

Describing Al-Noor as a Max/MSP-generated collection of computer music by contemporary composer Carl Stone might imply that the hour-long collection will be a po-faced academic exercise that the dutiful listener may ultimately appreciate more than enjoy (The LA-born composer has composed electroacoustic music almost exclusively since 1972 and now splits his time between California and Tokyo). In actual fact, the album's four pieces offer many listening pleasures, though not all of the compositions are equally successful. In each piece, Stone works from a basic set of sonic materials which he then manipulates using the software and transforms by looping and editing. The title piece limits itself to a woman's vocalizing but the treatments are so wide-ranging and inspired, the listener's attention never flags. At times, the unidentified singer's voice becomes a plaintive lament, at other times it resembles a Tuvan throat singer, and assumes an android character when multiplied.

Rising Phoenix-like from (I think) the ashes of “Barbie Girl,” the 1997 pop song by Aqua, “Flint's” becomes, in Stone's hands, a cubistic hoedown that constantly threatens to spiral out of control when fragmented so radically (listen carefully and you can occasionally hear the squeaky chirp of Lene Nystrøm rise above the maelstrom). The overlapping waves of voices in “Jitlada” create phase-shifting patterns reminiscent of Steve Reich's “Come Out” and “It's Gonna Rain” though an expansive instrumental dimension gives Stone's piece an up-to-date feel. “L'Os à Moelle” uses jangly guitar rock of the kind associated with REM or The Byrds as a springboard and, though interesting moments do arise (like the intermittent appearance of what sounds like amplified fly buzzing mimicking a psychedelic guitar solo), the piece is overlong at twenty-four minutes and would be more effective at half the length. Even so, Al-Noor turns out to be—dare I say it—a rather “fun” listen, not a word I would expect to use when describing a “modern composition” release.

February 2008