Kenneth Kirschner & Joseph Branciforte – from the machine, vol.1 (greyfade, 2021)

Kenneth Kirschner & Joseph Branciforte – from the machine, vol.1 (greyfade, 2021)

Jan 9, 2022 0 By Marcello Nardi

Indeterminacy, algorithmic composition and digital generative systems are synonyms of drama, narrative exploration and emotionality in the music of Kenneth Kirschner and Joseph Branciforte, depicted in a volume published by Branciforte‘s own label Greyfade and entitled From the machine Vol. 1. Starting from the first notes of Kirschner‘s piece April 20 2015, it is very clear that analysis of the procedural methodologies, of the harmonic and rhythmic painstaking rendition and the elusive treatment and the accents, are just part of a bigger picture. The other part, well hidden behind the dark side, it’s the investigation. The just apparently indeterminated movement of the parts, with prolonged notes floating at different paces, through multiple bars, the manipulation of the scarcity of pitches, constantly escaping any harmonic tonal center, all these means are capable of creating an immersively unique world.

Kenneth Kirschner has explored how to combine electronic and digital material through the means of indeterminacy, microtonality and media remediation. He has a vast catalogue, which is basically accessible online -he is a strong advocate of open source music. Joseph Branciforte, who’s releasing his second album on greyfade -che the earlier duo with Theo Bleckmann LP1, is a regarded sound engineer and a pioneer of the digital procedures for composing in contemporary music.

April 20 2015 has been composed by Kirschner using non-linear software techniques for generating a net of sounds through the sonic debris of piano and string recordings. Then Branciforte meticolously reworked the notation proceeding backward, the exercise resulting in a rendition of something that is almost a doppelganger of the original recording. The difference is recognizable in the nuances, in the small details and the players’ gestures to replicate the score. Two cellos and piano dialogue in a Feldman-like environment of swirling pitches, manipulating the occasional themes with accents and careful control of the volume. The cellos often explore the upper or the lower sides of the register, while piano’s occasional themes slip through different bars. The focus is on the dialogue between the three of them: enthralling and hypnotic at times, it becomes suddenly and unexpectedly lyrical in the coda, when the cellos play in unison for few bars.

Branciforte adds a similar piece in duration (both are around the twenty minutes), sharing similar ground rules in the making, yet very different in the rendition. 0123 is a low string quartet that carefully explores a musical voice leading movement of a cluster of pitches to create a sense of slow crescendo. Composed through a programming tool, the name of the piece indicates how Branciforte created a layer of pitches and eventually programmed the rhythmic movement, tempo and dynamics. Yet it is the dynamics component, matched with the choice of that particular ensemble -a low string quartet made of violin, viola cella and bass- that immediately catches listener’s attention: the prolonged notes of the four create an organ-like patch of clusters, like a frightening, enormous and gigantic mountain of sound. An immense curch organthat menacingly grows bigger and bigger -try to listen it with Olivier Messiaen‘s organ work Apparition de l’Église éternelle.

Through the middle of the piece, the quartet starts almost dividing their paths and the crescendo is accentuated not only by the higher pitches, but also by a sense of increased movement, by a subtly faster pace. Then the piece almost turns on itself, gets more and more introverted and dramatically deep. When few bars later the chords starts being interspersed with longer pauses, the listener almost doesn’t feel that also the duration of the chords is now shorter and the beats are almost broken, like a frantic breathing. The last bars, on the highest pitches reflect that dramatic tension at the highest stake.

Matching together dramatic elements through digital processing, Branciforte and Kischner create works that perfectly show how the dialogue between technology and analogic is a path yet to travel.

Kenneth Kirschner & Joseph Branciforte
from the machine, vol. 1

  1. April 20 2015 (Kenneth Kirschner)
    Jade Conlee, piano
    Mariel Roberts, cello
    Meaghan Burke, cello
  2. 0123 (Joseph Branciforte)
    Tom Chiu, violin
    Wendy Richman, viola
    Christopher Gross, cello
    Greg Chudzik, double bass