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Ron Nagorcka - Atom Bomb Becomes Folk Art

Ron Nagorcka - Atom Bomb Becomes Folk Art

“The very essence of electronic music is distortion!” This declaration, one of the spoken passages of Ron Nagorcka’s Atom Bomb for toy instruments, cassette tape records and miscellaneous devices, stands as a kind of epigram for the open and experimental spirit behind much of the music in this 2 CD survey of Nagorcka’s work.

Raised on a sheep farm in Western Victoria in Australia, Nagorcka was immersed in the sounds of the natural world—sounds that were to play a significant role in his music later in life. His formal music studies included pipe organ and harpsichord performance as well as composition and electronic music, the latter in California under the tutelage of Robert Erickson, Pauline Oliveros, Kenneth Gaburo and John Silber. Returning to Australia, he taught composition and in the 1980s moved to a remote part of Tasmania, where he is as much a naturalist as he is a composer/musician.

The pieces collected in this set cover a thirty year period, running from 1973’s Finite Differences for pipe organ duet, to three works from 2006. Some of the early work is represented by archival recordings of first—and sometimes only—performances. Taken together, they trace the progress of Nagorcka’s interests and the developments in sound technology that helped him to realize them.

The earliest pieces represented here show Nagorcka exploring pitch and timbre with often innovative—and sometimes unreliable—sound sources. Finite Differences’ combination of a limited set of notes and chords with manipulation of the pipe organ’s stops results in a series of dissonant harmonies sandwiched by a low frequency throb and high frequency drones. Modulation (1974) is a later studio reworking of a recording of a malfunction-ridden performance featuring reel-to-reel tape loops and a VCS3 synthesizer. Requiem (1976) for solo piano and Atom Bomb (1977) are new performances of works quite different in structure and feeling. The latter, realized by the trio Golden Fur in 2010, is a gradually accumulating cacophony of spoken fragments, sung lines and miscellaneous sounds building in density, volume and general noisiness over a quietly languid chord progression. Requiem, performed by pianist Nicholas Cummings in 2012, is a haltingly spare memorial to Melbourne composer Ian Bonighton.

The newer work explores alternative tunings or scales as well as field recordings of Australian fauna and locations. The multipart Artamidae (2002) and June Bluffing for Quamby (2006) complement field recordings of birds or landmarks with just intonation and changing time signatures. With myriad degrees of light-dark infusion (2006) is another work in just intonation, scored for an electroacoustic chamber ensemble of trombone, clarinet, cello and MIDI using a 43-tone scale created by Harry Partch. A pungently polyphonic piece, its crossing lines often produce slightly alien-sounding harmonies.

All in all, a rich and highly diverse collection of work.- Dan Barbiero, Avant Music News

Pogus is simply the best in finding composers that are a bit older, but somehow never released a lot of work, for whatever reason. Here for instance it's time for the music of Ron Nagorcka (1948), who studied pipe organ, harpsichord, composition and electronic music. In 1986 he build his own solar-powered studio in Tasmania, where he still lives. The pieces on this double CD span forty years of composing, and show his wide interest. Although first time round I played this in chronological order, first disc one than disc two, the review starts with the second disc. Overall the work of Nagorcka is quite diverse and on this second disc we find the pieces that are more for small ensembles and general could be called 'modern classical music'. It's the area of music where I must admit I don't know much about. 'Artamidae - A Suite Celebrating A Family Of Australian Songbirds', the five-piece suite opening here, is such a composition and didn't do much for me. The two-part 'Just Bluffing For Quamby' is electro-acoustic and sounds better, although also not really that favourite received here; the second piece here was the best. Followed by two pieces for instruments and electronic sounds, but then 'Colluricincla Harmonica', for fretless electric guitar and keyboards is a quite a nice little piece, in alternative tunings, which works quite well, meandering about. The final piece on this second is 'To Be A Pilgrim' and that's the best piece. Also modern classical but with nice touch of ye olde English folk.

The more interesting works we find on the first disc. It opens with the title piece, more or less, 'Atom Bomb', from 1977 but as performed in 2012, for cassette tape recorder, toy instruments and various other devices, which takes up thirty-five minutes and moves from almost singer-songwriter crooning to a more noise driven procedure; sometimes mildly organic and sometimes very loud - not really Merzbow, but still. Then there is the second longest single piece, a pipe organ duet, a more mellow, drone like piece. Modern classical composition we find in 'Modulations' and 'Requiem (In Memoriam Ian Bonighton)', of which the first is a random sort of play and the latter is an introspective piano piece. The final piece on the first disc is more of an improvised piece of music, but one that fits this disc quite well. Two discs that span not only a lot of music in terms of the time it will take you to hear all of this, but also in a wide spectrum of sounds. Not all works well, at least not for me, but Pogus has found another over-looked composer. - FdW, Vital Weekly
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