It is startling that composer Alice Shields has been on the electronic music beat for more than 35 years and yet, the Albany Records release Shenandoah: 3 Electronic Works is only the second full-length release from her in that time. While Shields began her career as a student of, and assistant to Vladimir Ussachevsky at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, the three works in question were all created in the digital domain utilizing ProTools and even sample discs normally used by hip-hoppers. This attribute is less surprising when you consider that Shields primarily composes for dance companies and has studied Indian drumming and raga extensively.
Of the three pieces Dust is the most immediately satisfying -- its constantly changing metrical pulse and blend of textures easily keeps one's attention, and its overall sound is sufficiently contemporary while avoiding sounding particularly harsh or new-agey. Vegetable Raga is nearly as satisfactory -- there was at least one small element that seemed to hang on a bit too long, but that may be due to personal taste or to the handicap of not being able to see the choreography for which this was written. The title track, Shenandoah, was composed in response to the 9/11 attacks, but do not look here for something akin to what John Adams does in On the Transmigration of Souls. Rather than ruminate over the depth and horror of this great tragedy, Shields presents in Shenandoah an affirmation of life and puts forth a tastefully low-key philosophical perspective on it. The lack of being able to see the choreography is still a factor here, and some judicious pruning of the piece for this recording would not have hurt it, but it is a very different spin on 9/11 than we have seen heretofore.
Shenandoah may well appeal equally to younger listeners who are into electronics either from a hip-hop or an industrial noise perspective. In her music Alice Shields does not wear her academic credentials on her sleeve, although the extremely detailed liner notes may prove a little bewildering to some who would enjoy the music without needing to refer to them.