Cathy Milliken / Clara Novakova / Carol Robinson

Billows

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Electro-acoustic music has come a long way since Iannis Xenakis first rolled Diamorphoses out of the ORTF studio in Paris back in 1957. What took Xenakis months of work to achieve can now be done -- even surpassed -- with digital gear to the extent that such music can be made live right now, while you're sitting there. In her album Billows, clarinetist and composer Carol Robinson creates a continuous 45-minute-long vision of soft tones, slowly growing out of nowhere and returning to the void, sometimes combining in harmonious union and at other times pulsating in a kind of dreamy harmonic conflict. This disc is nothing if not atmospheric; it is almost as if you could build an Aeolian harp out of free reeds, and while you can tell that there is breath in the sounds Robinson is generating, you would never guess that a clarinet is used as the trigger. When Otto Luening began his interest in generating "pure" electronic sound in the 1950s, he favored the flute as he reasoned that its tone is closest to a sine wave. By comparison, Robinson's clarinet in Billows produces tone that seems purer than the breathier, sharper attack of the flute and by exploiting the mellow sound of the chalumeau register she is able to generate deep tones well out of the flute's range. Billows would be a great disc to meditate to or as a background to chill out in a general sense; moreover, it's a very fine example of minimalist electronics worthy of favorable comparison to Brian Eno's 2/2 on the album Music for Airports.

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