It's not quite clear where the line between "sound art" and music lies, but both sides were explored emphatically at the Contemporary Music Forum's concert at the Corcoran Gallery on Monday. This was the CMF's annual "Plugged In" program and everything on it had an electronic component.
The program itself was structured like a large arch between Patrick Long's "from the edge's loom" for violin, cello and audio processor and Steve Antosca's "for two," similarly scored. Two constructions for video and electronic sound, Paras Kaul's "Peace Streams" and Frederick Weck's "Video IV," balanced each other nicely and framed Alexandra Gardner's "Ayehli" for marimba and sampled sounds. As a program it made perfect sense and, impressively, most of the offerings did, too.
Long uses live instruments, processed in real time and played back in subtle echoes of varying intensity, to color his sounds. Violinist Lina Bahn and cellist Collin Oldham held up admirably under the piece's unrelenting propulsion.
Antosca uses his electronic forces similarly, but the effect is to distort the string sound and his material sounds angrier and more explosive. This is aleatoric music, music that requires the performers to improvise, and both instrumentalists seemed comfortable with their collaboration.
"Peace Streams" and "Video IV" were examples of well-handled coordination of sound and video, but Kaul's work is intensely personal, its images superimposed on a face with blinking eyes (and with her own brain waves as basic material) while Weck's sounds and images dwelled on abstract designs.
In Gardner's "Ayehli" the electronic dimension plays a more familiar role, as an accompaniment and musical context for the performer. Barry Dove played with assurance and amazing agility.
Both the Gardner and Weck performances were premieres.
-- Joan Reinthaler