SAN DIEGO, CA -- Of all the places to see a cutting-edge presentation of avant-garde music, the last place I'd probably think of is San Diego, California. Yet, that's exactly what I experienced last night at Space 4 Art, a multi-use art space in a transitional neighborhood a few blocks east of downtown, where French composer Philippe Manoury and Max MSP creator Miller Puckette presented a series of works written for real-time electronics and soprano, sung here by the impressive Juliana Snapper. This isn't as random as it might seem: both Manoury and Puckette teach at UC San Diego, which has one of the West Coast's leading music programs; Snapper is a recent graduate currently living in L.A.
The tight space was packed beyond capacity. (A second concert was added tonight for those who were shut out.) Manoury's music dominated the program, including the world premiere of Ilud Etiam and his 1994 song cycle, En Echo. Both used six-channel electronics filtered through Puckette's Pure Data program, allowing the computer to react in real time to the performer. Manoury and Puckette sat side by side in front of the stage, with Manoury fiddling with knobs and levers Stockhuasen-style while Puckette manipulated what looked like a split-screen iPad. The sound was a mix of ambient and dissonant, interrupted with what sounded like gongs or gamelan bowls.
In between Manoury's works was Luigi Nono's La Fabbrica Illuminata (1964) for four-channel tape and soprano. Written in response to a horrifying incident in which dozens of Italian steelworkers were burned alive inside a locked plant, the music was far more harsh and severe—almost aggressive—in its ugliness.
The concert was a presented as part of Bonnie Wright's Fresh Sound series, which has been almost alone in providing cutting-edge and experimental music to San Diegans since 1995. I've had the good fortune of getting to know Bonnie during her serveral extended stays in NYC, and I can honestly say that I don't know anyone more enthusiastic or energetic about supporting new music than Bonnie. One only wishes there were more of her in other cities around this country.