Listeners familiar only with Marcus Schmickler's electronic improv output, whether in solo performances or in the company of musicians such as Keith Rowe and Thomas Lehn, might be in for a bit of a surprise here, but an entirely pleasant one. Param consists of nine pieces that, for lack of a better pigeonhole, fit comfortably into the realm of contemporary classical music. With instrumentation ranging from pipe organ to string quartet to choir and chamber orchestra, Schmickler constructs cool, fascinating structures, often drone-based, that, aside from showing great inherent beauty, offer a glimpse into what lies beneath his more vigorous abstractions created after the turn of the century. After the pulsating organ drone of "Atman," for instance, a similar idea is picked up with the title piece, but spread (in an almost literal sense -- one can hear the elements being pushed slowly over the "surface" of the composition) over a luscious palette of strings, brass, and reeds. The tracks are sequenced so that they blend into one another so that a quiet Feldman-esque piece without warning turns into a stormier one that recalls Elliott Carter. "22 Gliders-Rule," for electronically augmented string quartet, has the sweep, power, and intelligence of first-rate Xenakis while "Cue," for winds, percussion, and electronics, has a lovely, delicate touch, producing a pastoral landscape overlaid by subtle washes of static. Param can be greatly enjoyed by fans of both electronic improv and avant-garde classical music and can hold its own with the best of either.
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