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Paul Dresher’s Electro-Acoustic Band will premiere three commissioned pieces

Members of the Electro-Acoustic Band
Members of the Electro-Acoustic Band
courtesy of the Paul Dresher Ensemble

Next month the Paul Dresher Ensemble (PDE) will present the latest concert by the Electro-Acoustic Band (EAB) entitled Memory Gain. Now in its twentieth year, EAB combines traditional chamber music instrumentation (violin and clarinet) with instruments not traditionally associated with classical music (including electronic versions of guitar, bass, and keyboards) and recently invented electronic instruments (such as Don Buchla’s Marimba Lumina and electronic drum kits). The title is a reflection on one of the three premieres that will be included in the new program.

That premiere is “Artificial Memory,” composed on commission by Sebastian Currier. This is a musical reflection on the philosophy of the sixteenth-century Italian scholar Giordano Bruno. Bruno tends to be best known for developing a heliocentric cosmology that led to his having been burned at the stake. His Wikipedia entry gives a more accurate account of his tragic end:

Beginning in 1593, Bruno was tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition on charges including denial of the Trinity, denial of the divinity of Christ, denial of virginity of Mary, and denial of Transubstantiation. The Inquisition found him guilty, and in 1600 he was burned at the stake.

Currier’s inspiration, however, is based on a lesser known aspect of Bruno’s life, which was his research into the nature of memory, probably best summarized by Francis Yates in her book The Art of Memory. Bruno wrote several treatises about memory, the last of which, Lampas triginta statuarum (usually known in English as Statues) suggested that specific memories are embodied as images in the mind, which may be summoned when those memories need to be recalled. This amounts to an embellishment of a mnemonic device that can be traced back to ancient Greece through which memories are associated with imagined physical locations, sometimes called “memory palaces.”

Currier adopts these historical concepts to the more associative nature of memory. Thus, in his score, a sound evokes a meaning; and that meaning then in turn evokes another sound. The meanings are then expressed through words; but those words are organized taxonomically, rather than expressed through sentences or phrases. “Artificial Memory” promises to be a unique reflection on a psychological phenomenon whose study dates back at least as far as Aristotle.

The other two premieres will present songs contributed to They Will Have Been so Beautiful, conceived by Amy X Neuburg in collaboration with PDE and inspired by the photographs of Diane Arbus. In its entirety They Will Have Been so Beautiful is a cycle of ten songs, each contributed by a different composer based on an Arbus photograph of his/her own choosing. The only constraint is that the duration be between five and eight minutes. The contributions to be performed by EAB are the songs written by Conrad Cummings and Lisa Bielawa. The full cycle will be performed in its entirety this fall in an event arranged by Cal Performances.

This concert will also have an “opening act,” consisting of jazz improvisations by OoN, the duo that brings bassoonist Paul Hanson together with electric bassist Ariane Cap, a couple that brought nonstandard jazz to last year’s Concerts at the Cadillac series of free concerts.

This program will be given two performances, both taking place at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 18, and Saturday, April 19, respectively. A Q&A with the audience will be held after the Friday evening performance. The venue will be the ODC Theater at 3153 17th Street (between Shotwell Street and Van Ness Avenue). Tickets for the concerts are $25 with a $12 rate for seniors and students. They may be purchased online through an event page on the ODC Theater Web site, and they will also be on sale at the door.

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