20.5.11

Olivia Block

Olivia Block is a contemporary composer and sound artist who combines field recordings, scored segments for acoustic instruments, and electronically generated sound. Block works with recorded media, chamber ensembles, video, and site-specific sound installations.

She has performed throughout Europe, America, and Japan in tours and festivals including Sonic Light, Dissonanze, Archipel, Angelica, Sunoni per il Popolo, Outer Ear, and many others. Her works have premiered at La Biennale di Venezia 52nd International Festival of Contemporary Music, and she has completed residencies and premiered works at Mills College of Music and The Berklee College of Music. She has taught master classes at several additional universities.

Block has published recordings through Sedimental, either/OAR, and Cut, among other labels.

Olivia Block & Kyle Bruckmann
Teem (either/OAR, 2010)

I've come to recognize the name Olivia Block, but Bruckmann's is a name I'm not at all familiar with. It turns out that much like Block, Bruckmann's musical standing came to fruition through an academic stream. He studied Oboe and earned undergrad degrees in music and psychology at Rice University in Houston. In '96 he earned his Masters at Michigan U where he became very interested in contemporary improv, electroacoustics and avant-garde composition. He composed this album with Block between 2003-2008.

Teem is in fact teeming with life. The aptness of Block and Bruckmann's title rings true from the onset of the opening track, fading in quickly before steadily growing into a barrage of dissonant horns, droning reed organ and teeth-on-tinfoil static. I was rather surprised by the overtness of this track, along with its unmistakably chaotic free-jazz feel, though have grown to
appreciate its unique take on the style and have embraced its chaos. On the other hand, the remainder of the pieces are easier to fall into, lulling the listener through a steady flux of drones, improv segments, and mixed in field recordings tinged with an industrial starkness–an obvious exception being the beginning of the second movement, a nearly two minute Gamelan infused blast of free-tonal noise that's sure to improve posture (see sound sample).

There exists a remarkable ebb and flow to this album, from the teetering point between clatter and out-of-control noise to sublime moments of fluttering ambience. Far more 'active' than much of the music I like, albeit a refreshing and welcome change in the routine of daily listening. Lovely packaging design by Dale Lloyd and equally lovely drawings by Kate Atkin.

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