Industrial strength! Annie Gosfield’s music transforms the sounds and functions and grit of American industrial production into music for live players. In this case, she reflects on the abstract noise and crackle of 2020’s remote communications, using radio ephemera and jammed signals in a new piece, Curveballs and Asteroids, for the Bang on a Can All-Stars’ clarinetist Ken Thomson.
Annie writes about Curveballs and Asteroids: “When I was invited to compose this piece during lockdown in NYC, I wanted to use my extensive library of radio sounds and jammed signals. It was a natural choice for a live stream premiere: Curveballs and Asteroids emerges from the airwaves with radio noise, and eventually vanishes back into a sea of signals. In between, bass clarinetist Ken Thomson engages in a series of conversations with transmissions from the ether. Both of the participants (human and electronic) nimbly shift between background and foreground, bouncing from static to active.
“In a time when remote communications have become ubiquitous, I thought about the radio transmissions of the past, and included hum, buzz, oscillations, codes, and jammed radio signals from archival recordings from WWII and the Cold War. These were layered, shaped and altered to create an electronic backdrop for the bass clarinet, which moves in leaps and bounds, or lies in wait in static entropy, most often navigating between these two states. I wanted to emphasize the expressive range of the instrument, from joyous and raucous, to dark and foreboding. Ken Thomson’s lively marching band was as much of an inspiration as our isolated electronic existence: I took a repeated pulse that was originally used to jam radio signals, and transposed it to a lower frequency, where it drives a slightly demented march that pits human against machine. As for the title, 2020 has pitched us many curveballs, but one of the strangest is the wildcard chance of an asteroid hitting just before November’s election. ”
photo by Josh Gosfield