Some weeks back, CNMAT live-streamed a solo Kyle Bruckmann concert — oboe, English horn, and/or electronics — performed at their studio in Berkeley. With multiple camera angles and video cards that provide the program notes, it’s a professionally produced set that made for a satisfying afternoon show — one you can relive on YouTube.
Bruckmann played five pieces in the experimental/avant-classical vein, including two of his own, including a world premiere.
Linda Bouchard’s “DROP” (2018) magnified the sound of air through the tube of the oboe (or English horn; I didn’t try hard enough to discern them), turning a whispery sound source into an avalanche. The piece progressed into a cavalcade of extended technique — lots of circular breathing, buzzing rows of notes, and klaxon blares — creating a space full of urgency, a voice a rush to speak.
A quick dose of more conventional oboe playing was featured in “Arachne” (2013) by Helen Grime. The composition follows the Greek myth of a woman eventually turned into a spider, and it appropriately ended with a scurrying of small high notes.
Bruckmann’s own “A Spurious Autobiography for John Barth” (2015), which appears on his Triptych album, produced the concert’s first full dose of electronics, with an overhead camera capturing the view of Bruckmann’s pedals and wires. The piece addresses the pitfalls of solo improvisation — falling into “the same damn things over and over again,” as Bruckmann writes in the program notes, by having a computer spit back fragments of Bruckmann’s 2000 solo album, entymology. His job is to react.
It’s fun watching this kind of “game” play out in real time. The oboe fragments came out in processed form, sometimes chopped up, sometimes blurred or smeared, sometimes spotty like a radio drifting out of range. Bruckmann built a rushed chaos out of it all, ending with a calm finish and a touch of “pure” unadulterated oboe sound.
The first of the premiere pieces was Hannah A. Barnes’ “Dis/inte/gration,” based on electronics playing back the oboe “through a phase vocodor at (impossibly) slow speeds.” That meant long tones occasionally coming back like long-ago echoes, ghostly and ringing. As Bruckmann sped up the pace, the feedback started feeling more like an urgent dialogue with voices from some other plane.
For his own premiere composition “Proximity,” Bruckmann disassembled the oboe, removing the mouthpiece and blocking the other end with his hand. With the help of electronics, he built a narrative of sounds — deep didjeridoo tones and ultra-high hearing-test notes in unison, followed by successive plateaus of mood ranging from electronic scribbles to calm, slow brushstrokes of air. Apparently inspired by our current “gerbil ball” state of existence (Bruckmann’s phrase, and a good one), “Proximity” felt intimate, full of close, small gestures.
Deeper in the CNMAT archives is another of Bruckmann’s solo concerts, this time from 2017 with a live audience. You can view that one here.