International Trombone Association JOURNAL - VOLUME 29, NUMBER 4 – FALL 2001
Rodney Oakes has done pioneering work in combining the trombone and electronic devices. The MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) trombone uses the trombone to control synthesizers and other MIDI hardware or software with a pitch-to-MIDI converter. In effect, the sounds on this CD are the result of the combination of an acoustic trombone and synthesizers. The trombone is the message, messenger, and the medium.
Fantasy II for Buccina is a combination of the old and new. The recognizable sounds of the trombone with its plunger like effects, glissandi, and falls swoop over an electronic background. It is often like hearing a trombone through a waterfall of surging surf. In the Three Bellagio Meditations, the Prelude utilized only a minimal MIDI manipulation as the jazz influenced trombone is heard in duet with chime-like sounds. The Ballad uses percussive, metallic sounds in conjunction with an only slightly altered trombone. Oakes develops a layering accompaniment and pizzacato string-like sounds as he dances with, around, and through Bellagio Blues. Three clear notes from the trombone announce the end. New Cracow (Nowy Krakow) is a ‘MIDI-toccata” with a fast moving, high pitched line reminiscent of electronically sped up church bells. Various percussive injections (break drums? bongos?) are imposed over this theme of a slow moving like choral-like MIDI-trombone. Soliloquy is written for one musician, two instruments (MIDI trombone and MIDI Alp Horn), a computer, and a synthesizer. The Alp Horn (a nine-foot Polish folk instrument) and MIDI trombone control the synthesizers within a lonesome wind – a brooding, haunting effect.
With an opening theme reminiscent of Harlem Nocturne, Erotic rhapsody’s prayer-like chants weave their way into a statement of Amazing Grace. The film-noir twinge of his liner notes alone are worth the price of admission. Hilarious or offensive - it depends on your point of view. One of the series of short works exploring the use of multiple trombones to control synthesizers, Impromptu, reminds me of B29’s lifting off Tinan. The interval of a fifth is layered as individual notes are punched through the swirls of sound. The devil-may-care playfulness of Mazurka for Krysia is in sharp contrast to the two closing compositions – Variations on a Song of the Buraku Liberation Movement andThrenody for the Victims of My Lai. The MIDI trombone somehow produces the sound of gongs, kotos, Oriental flutes to state the theme f the ancient Buraku Song of Liberation. The MIDI trombone, though in control, is hidden; there are none of the obvious trombone sounds heard in the other compositions. The variations are a series of beautifully layered, exotic sounds. The jazz flavored closing composition utilizes many techniques as the MIDI trombone improvises around the stated melody. It is an emotional “trip” with the plaintive trombone seeming to ask “why?”
Rodney Oakes’ music demands much of the listener, but like so many things of value the rewards are in proportion to the effort. From a playful “joie de vivre” to deep emotional questions, MSUIC FOR MIDI TROMBONE has much to offer.
East Carolina University
AMG EXPERT REVIEW: This CD collects nine works written by Rodney Oakes between 1991 and 2000. Performed by the composer, they are pieces for MIDI trombone (except for "New Cracow," for synthesizer only). The trombone triggers synthesizers and the resulting sound is of a trombone backed by electronics. On "Soliloquy," trombone and alp horn solo over foggy synthesizer landscapes to good effect, recalling at times some of J.A. Deane's work (on Solo Dino), although less dense. The programmatic piece "Erotic Rhapsody" announced some kind of music orgy but the piece never really gets off the ground, although the mocking quote from "Amazing Grace" at the end works its charm. Multiple trombones echo in "Impromptu," a very convincing piece, dreamy, full-bodied, and putting synthesizer to good use. But the best moment remains "Threnody for the Victims of My Lai," a moving number with dark synthesizer flooring and emotional jazzy trombone improvisations. Music for MIDI Trombone is somewhere at the crossroads of contemporary classical, computer music, and new jazz. This effort is much stronger than Oakes' previous Innova title OgOGo Live In Your Bedroom. François Couture
SoundTracks: November 2000
Rodney Oakes' Music for Midi Trombone features some pieces with explicitly political motivation, my favorite being "Erotic Rhapsody," which describes a meeting of political figures and television evangelists that devolves into an orgy.