Various Artists

Frances White: Centre Bridge - Electroacoustic Works

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Princeton-based composer Frances White has been working in electro-acoustic music since at least 1985; her works have been widely anthologized in collections of electronic and computer music, but Mode's Centre Bridge appears to be the first omnibus on CD devoted to her work. While the chronological compass of the five pieces included span a decade-long period from 1992 to 2001, there is a strong sense of continuity between all of these pieces. Rather than viewing the situation in metaphorical terms of composing computer music like being a Picasso with two billion colors on her palette, as the inference has been made elsewhere, White favors perhaps about two-dozen colors that she applies rather sparingly and with a great deal of patient refining. An avid gardener, White draws inspiration from both manmade and natural sources; the tones generated by a "singing bridge" that runs between Pennsylvania and New Jersey or in populating a musical work in that manner that the bulbs she plants populates her garden.

Of the five selections, only Walk through "Resonant landscape" No. 2 is purely electronic; White is somewhat fonder of supplementing her electronic pieces with parts for live instruments, and often the human players are used merely to sustain tones or enter and exit at certain times. "Even though they have just a few notes in them," White has said, "I think of these pieces as being quite virtuosic," and she is right. White's music is not only virtuosic in the way it makes players wait until just the right moment to sound, but also it is very generous to musicians when they are asked to step forward from that role for a bit. Listen to how magisterial and full-throated Liuh-Weh Ting's viola is during her brief solo on Like the lily, or in her more substantial turn in A veil barely seen, or the way the double bass works in the overall texture of Centre Bridge (dark river).

Frances White is so committed to maintaining the balance of her careful, painterly, and landscape-like constructions might lead some to complain that there are no "people" in her music. Not to put words in White's mouth, but it calls to mind a comment made by Dutch documentarian Bert Haanstra early in his career, "I can handle nature, but I've not yet learned to handle people and their problems." On the other hand, White's devotion to atmosphere and color has won the attention of a different filmmaker, Gus van Sant, whose film Paranoid Park won the 60th Anniversary Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival; it utilized White's music rather extensively. White's works on Mode's Centre Bridge is diverting in that the elements of the music, though underplayed in their presentation and relatively gentle sounding in comparison to those common to most "computer music," add up to a result that is provocative and challenging, creating its own rules.

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