Like the John Cage and Morton Feldman festivals in recent years, Network for New Music's Third Space festival of electronic music revealed numerous pieces that shouldn't need a festival in order to be heard, but don't fit (sometimes physically) into typical concert halls.
The venues of the Friday-through-Monday concerts told much of the story: Small studios and theaters at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and Community College of Philadelphia were chosen for their technological resources.
As with organ recitals, we go to them rather than having them come to us. Hearing the music in person is essential. Though I knew some pieces from recordings, the interaction between acoustic and electronic, which is less obvious on recordings, was a major aspect of the live performances, performed by Network at a remarkably high standard.
On Friday, as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, featured works by seasoned electronic composers showed what sensual and poetic dimensions electronics bring to pairings with live instruments.
James Primosch's terrific Chamber Concerto began dauntingly with musical ideas splintered over a large range of sounds, opening the door to an exquisite, mysterious garden of sound in the second movement, reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen, with a playfully intricate final movement.
Paul Lansky's 1981 As If uses electronics to echo acoustic instruments with the echoes morphing into a life of their own, much of it jaw-droppingly beautiful and nostalgia-inducing with sounds explored in less refined ways by prog-rock groups of the 1970s.
The Sunday concert (repeated April 12 at Haverford College) was heavy on video. Maurice Wright's thoughtful, substantial but not fully realized Darwiniana made you appreciate the poetic ease in which video, acoustic and electronic elements melded in Mark Zaki's no one can hear you dream.
Among other things, the screen had written aphorisms, bordering on pleas, such as, "How do I get close to you?" Zaki himself provided abstract commentary with live solo violin, plus atmospheric electronic underbrush - all used with great emotional imperative, exploring the alienation technology has brought to our lives, and doing so with technology.
On Monday, the endless range of possible electronic augmentation of acoustic instruments was heard in Joo Won Park's Snapshots for bass clarinet and Music for Snare Drum and Computer by Cort Lippe, Mitochondrial Dreams (in which composer Adam Vidiksis played kitchen pots and pans with brushes) and d'Amore by Andrew McPherson.
Some were wild electronic fantasies on the source sound, though d'Amore used sophisticated electronics demurely. The "magnetic resonator piano," a doctored acoustic piano operated by remote control, created an incredibly tasteful frame for the solo violist's eloquent soliloquy - a plugged-in counterpart to Béla Bartók's Sonata for Solo Violin.