Earl Howard, alto saxophone, synthesizer, live processing; Miya Masaoka, koto
In many respects Earl Howard’s (b. 1951) music is an anomaly that resists categorization and the seductiveness of genre. He is an important force in improvised music and yet his work employs complex structures and rigorous transitions of sound and texture. His electro-acoustic music is realized with a K-2600 Kurzweil that for Howard is not merely a keyboard synthesizer but an open system, a computer with a most effective interface with modules and a key map that enable more freedom in the composer’s creation of textures. In the three solo works (Bird 3, Strasser 60, 2455) presented on Granular Modality, one can observe the striking continuity of Howard’s aesthetic approach. All three pieces employ a flexible script of material that transforms and modulates from texture to texture. Each section in the composition represents a complex sound world that is not simply multiphonics or sub-harmonics, for example, but an exchange, an interplay that is both directional in terms of an overall sense of form and discursive in its oppositional characteristics.
The discursive elements in Earl Howard’s playing on the saxophone and on the synthesizer convey a restless approach toward material. Musical material and texture always change and evolve. On the synthesizer this is accomplished with a scripted succession of programs, textures and behaviors that can overlap and be revealed over time. The scripted flow of events creates a coherent overall structure that is malleable in terms of duration and nuance. Distinction between the improvised and the composed becomes irrelevant, as the order of events, the script, remains the same as the details are revealed in the action of improvisation. Crupper (2009) features Miya Masaoka on koto with the composer on synthesizer. The piece has a fascinating tension between tonality and sound finding a delicate balance between the stochastic and the melodic.