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XXIst century mandolin, acoustic and computer music for the mandolin by David A. Jaffe. Compact disc, Well-Tempered Productions WTP 5164, 1994, distributed by Allegro. Includes Grass Valley Fire, 1988---Modern Mandolin Quartet. American Miniatures---computer processed sound. Ellis Island Sonata---David Jaffe, mandolin. Silicon Valley Breakdown---computer-generated sound.

The first music I can remember hearing is my father's mandolin playing---everything from Bach sonatas to Yiddish folk music, from Appalachian fiddle tunes to songs of the Red Army Chorus---a potpourri of union songs, spirituals, and songs of the Spanish Civil War. From this early influence sprang not only my affinity for the mandolin, but also a taste for permeating the boundaries that separate musical styles. I came to discover that by combining diverse seemingly-irreconcilable stylistic elements, I was able to uncover a rich dynamic source of musical expression.

Here are four pieces for acoustic and electronic plucked strings. From the pastoral chamber music of Grass Valley Fire, 1988 to the impassioned soliloquy of Ellis Island Sonata, from the Haiku-like epigrams of American Miniatures to the sweeping orchestral textures of Silicon Valley Breakdown, the mandolin is taken off the shelf, dusted off and allowed to sing.---David A. Jaffe

GRASS VALLEY FIRE, 1988 for mandolin quartet commemorates the 1988 fire that burned 49 square miles around Grass Valley, California, including the home of the composer's sister. The piece's three continuous sections loosely follow the progress of the fire---the opening suggests the pastoral quality of the grasslands before the fire, the middle evokes the fire as it takes hold in earnest and the conclusion is a stark desolate reworking of the opening, depicting the charred remains the fire left behind. The fire itself is represented as an intensity of rhythm, derived from the composer's experience playing Afro-Cuban charranga music on the violin.

This piece, written for the Modern Mandolin Quartet, was the first original piece in their repertoire that was designed expressly for their instrumentation. The Quartet gave the premier performance in 1989 at Merkin Concert Hall in New York and have toured the work extensively.

AMERICAN MINIATURES for computer-processed voices, mandolin, violin, guitar banjo and drums (1992), commissioned by experimental film-maker Lynn Kirby, forms the sound track of a film about the American Identity. Its five short movements represent aspects of the American psyche: Roads West focuses on the urge to explore, specifically the westward movement of the 1800's. After the Battle of Bull Run depicts the conflicts of race and sovereignty of the Civil War. The Dust Bowl suggests the loneliness, poverty and sense of dispossession of the 1930s. Gold is concerned with greed, the 1849 Gold Rush and the building of the railroads. Neighborhoods is a gentle reminder of the past and its influence on immigrants and natives.

The piece was created by recording and processing sound using a NeXT Computer. Source recordings range from single notes to entire musical phrases and were performed by Emily Bezar (female voices), Tom Pressburger (drum samples) and David Jaffe (strings and male voices). Quarter-tones appear frequently, as do diverging and converging multi-tempo canons. The drumming is based on Congolese rhythms, produced using an "automatic improvisation" computer program written in LISP by Tom Pressburger and the composer.

ELLIS ISLAND SONATA for solo mandolin (1985) is a large-scale piece for a small-scale instrument. Its four movements recall the mandolin tunes of the composer's father and grandfather, conveying something of the experience of the Eastern European immigrants as they discovered America.

The piece opens with Arrival, a first glimpse of the tip of the Statue of Liberty, growing into a complex combination of exhilaration, fear, liberation and regret. Ghosts from the Old Country is from the realm of memory, with past voices and places emerging from the night. In Progress or Poverty?, fast-paced city life assaults the senses, reeling like the sped-up scenes from early silent movies, as the economic reality of the "gold-paved" streets hits home. The final movement, Who Are My People?, is a meditation on who we are and where we came from, based on echoes of the preceding movements.

This piece was commissioned by William Walach for "Mandolin Celebration II", with support from the Evelyn W. Preston Memorial Fund and the George A. Long and Grace L. Long Foundation. Each movement uses a different mandolin tuning---

I: E/G-D-A-E, II: G-C/D-G/A-E, III: G-C#/D-G/#A-D#/E (later, quarter-tones), IV: G-D-A-E.

SILICON VALLEY BREAKDOWN for computer-generated sound (1982) presents a symphony of imaginary plucked stringed instruments. This electronic orchestra---all sounds are entirely synthesized---is often divided into four smaller ensembles, each with its own tone quality and character. The recording is a stereo version of the original quadraphonic work.

The piece opens with bluegrass music pitted against opposing chromatic "abstract" material. Gradually, these two styles exchange attributes---the rock-solid rhythm of the bluegrass fractures, while the abstract material adopts country music harmony. The two eventually find a kind of resolution, fusing together into a single cohesive texture during the extended finale, then flying apart into opposite corners of the cosmos.

The title is a pun referring to classic bluegrass titles like "Shenandoah Valley Breakdown," as well as to the explosion of rhythmic complexity that characterizes the work. A FOONLY F-4 Computer controls musical timing in ways that would be nearly impossible with human instrumentalists. Custom simulation programs extend traditional contrapuntal imitation to produce "elastic canons", in which parts begin together, diverge in tempo and eventually find their way back into perfect synchronization.

The sound was synthesized by the giant Systems Concept Digital Synthesizer at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, Stanford University. This device models the physics of a plucked string, using a technique invented by Alex Strong, Kevin Karplus, David Jaffe and Julius Smith, and combines a variety of filtering and modulation methods to blur the dividing line between string resonance and reverberation, between instrument and space.

Since its premier at the 1983 Biennale in Venice, "Silicon Valley Breakdown" has been presented in over twenty countries on five continents. Jacques Lonchampt of Le Monde hailed it as a landmark of computer music.

DAVID A. JAFFE, born in 1955 in northern New Jersey, began studying violin, mandolin and composition at an early age. In high school, he played with improvising bands of various genres, then toured for several years with the bluegrass band Bottle Hill. He attended Ithaca College, Bennington College and Stanford University, where he received Master of Arts and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in 1983.

Jaffe's prodigious output of orchestral, choral, chamber, solo and computer music is known for its imaginative personal quality, its use of folklore and the unique juxtaposition of disparate elements. His work frequently addresses issues of politics and social justice, as in Telegram to the President, 1984 for string quartet and computer, Songs of California for vocal ensemble and Whoop For Your Life! for orchestra, which decries the plight of the endangered Whooping Crane. Since 1991, he has been pioneering the musical use of the Radio Baton, an electronic 3D performance sensor designed by Max Mathews and Bob Boie at Bell Labs, in works such as Terra Non Firma for four cellos and Radio Baton-conducted electronic wind ensemble and The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a seventy-minute concerto for Radio Baton-driven acoustic robot piano (Yamaha Disklavier) written for virtuoso percussionist and collaborator Andrew Schloss.

Jaffe is also well-known for his technical research. In the early 1980's he developed a revolutionary form of plucked string synthesis, featured in Silicon Valley Breakdown. During the period 1986-91, in collaboration with signal processing expert Julius Smith, he created the innovative NeXT Music Kit software, which is used in American Miniatures. He has published extensively on topics ranging from ensemble interaction to music software design in periodicals such as Computer Music Journal, Interface and Lulu, and in books including The Music Machine and The Well-Tempered Object.

Jaffe has taught composition at Princeton University, Stanford University and the University of California at San Diego, and has lectured in Europe, Japan, and the Americas. He was the 1990 N.E.A. Composer-In-Residence for Chanticleer and the 1991 Rockefeller Foundation Visiting Composer to LIPM, Buenos Aires. He has received three N.E.A. Composer Fellowships and commissions from ensembles such as the Kronos Quartet and the Mostly Modern Orchestra. As conductor, MIDI/electronic/acoustic violinist and mandolinist, he has performed his music at major festivals, including the Berlin, Bergen, NEMO and Warsaw Autumn Festivals and the American Festival in London. His music is available on CD from Warner Brothers, Wergo, Centaur, Vienna Modern Masters and Well-Tempered.

The Modern Mandolin Quartet appear courtesy of Windham Hill Productions.


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