Thema (Omaggio a Joyce)
In the Leap Second [World premiere; presented in collaboration with video artist Christos Zinas] Morgan
A Portrait [Film: Chris Ruffatto, director; Catherine Lutes, cinematographer]
Milton Mermikedes Technical Supervision
Omaggio Berio Electronic Berio
Monday, April 26, 2004 David Josefowitz Recital Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
Good to find Berio's electronic output ranking with that of Stockhausen and Nono as the most durable by one of the 1950s generation given its due in the Omaggio retrospective. Moreover, the three works were well chosen to illustrate the changing requirements of electronic composition at that crucial time when pure (i.e. sine-tone based) electronics were giving way to montage and later still live interaction.
Already in Thema: Omaggio a Joyce (1958), Berio is deriving his material from the 'real world': here, a spoken extract from Ulysses characterfully rendered by Cathy Berberian, before being broken into its phonetic components and reconfigured along acoustic and linguistic lines. Rather more entertaining than Momenti (1960) Berio's final purely electronic piece, sounding dour and grittily unattractive. Deterioration of the master tape may partly be to blame, but in the light of so effortless and effervescent a tape-piece as Ligeti's Artikulation from three years earlier, it was clearly time for a change of tack.
That change is realised mesmerically in Visage (1962) a 17-minute investigation of (to quote the composer) "a parabola from the failure of communication, through trivial conversation, to serious emotion, and ultimately to song". Multi-lingual and multi-faceted in its traversal of human emotion the powers that be at the RAI studios apparently judged it obscene! Visage ranks high among Berio's compositions in any medium, and a template for most subsequent exploration (or should that be exploitation!) of human behaviour.
This being the Royal Academy, space was made for works by two post-graduate composers. Artem Vassiliev's In the Leap Second achieved little more than to co-ordinate a cumulatively intensifying soundtrack with video images of accelerating velocity, but Andrew W. Morgan's A Portrait (given by its working-title Face in the programme) utilised a range of (mostly!) subtle transformations of facial sounds (apparently those resulting from blinking the eyes, wrinkling of eyebrows etc; such as can only be heard by a microphone placed directly on the surface of the skin) allied to an imaginative film in which mutants gain for themselves a photographic identity. Disturbing and entertaining in equal measure but Berio would likely have been amused.