The title of this CD of electronic music solos and duets is a nice description of the sonic landscape of the late '80s. New technological software brought all kinds of electronic sounds into everyday life. There are people who will want to have a copy of Artificial Horizon because noise for noise, it has more moments where the listener will jump up thinking there is a phone call than any recording audited in recent memory. It goes well beyond phones, as a keen listener may also think the microwave is beeping, the toaster oven alarm is engaged, a low-battery warning mechanism is leaping forth from a 1988 toy keyboard, and the basement dehumidifier is humming forth a request to have its water bucket emptied. "Music for New Software Instruments" is the way the West Coast performers John Bischoff and Tim Perkis describe the dozen selections here. The liner notes contain further description of what is going on in each piece technically; anyone still panting from the trip up the stairs to check the video recorder that wasn't really chirping can find out just exactly what kind of gizmo is making the irritating sound in question. An initial listening session without reading any of these data seemed important, since it is good to treat music as music without the benefit of technological hype. An anonymous crime show buff described this philosophy quite well when bemoaning the surplus of crime lab shows on television circa 2003: "Sometimes I like seeing a guy get shot without hearing about exactly what kind of bullet he got in him."
The opening "Touch Typing" is a flamboyant display of electronic noise and music and one of the biggest collections of "is that my beeper?" moments, although the phenomena reoccurs in other pieces as well. What also happens during the series of pieces is that the players get use of software imitating an electric piano and quasi-acoustic piano sound, providing a sensible variety. Some of these moments are pleasing in a simple, enlightening Satie way; other passages simply sound like routine improvised piano music, like one of those moments where everyone is waiting for something to happen. "Clicks" is a piece that has attained new meaning with the passing of time and the creation of new technology. More than a decade after Perkis created this classic work out of digital information patterns, consumers have CD burners that will create the same type of noise for a variety of reasons, including scratches and/or tomato seeds that have somehow gotten stuck to the business side of the disc. Is there a sound the digital audience hates more than these clicks, the equivalent of the scratchy records that so many avant-garde and electronica composers wound up drooling over? "Happy Trails" and the set of "Clavitron 6000" pieces are, in part, settings for rhythmic and harmonic elements that might take some listeners by surprise, again adding to the diverse nature of what some might presume just to be a ride through the noise wash. Perkis and Bischoff have become more distinctive, versatile, and original in their music since the '80s, something that might also be said for software technology -- on a good day. The totally dry and business-like appearance of the CD booklet makes it easy to mistake for some kind of computer keyboard manual, especially the way titles such as "Touch Typing" and "Clicks" are placed as paragraph headings in boldface capital letters.