David Rosenboom | Brainwave Music
Black Truffle (LP)
Derived from his 1970’s experiments in biofeedback, Brainwave Music is both an academic exploration of a compositional system, and somewhat of a novelty. The last few years has seen a renewed interest in biofeedback and its utility in synthesis, so it is perhaps fitting that Black Truffle have chosen to rerelease this album now. Concept aside, the musical results are extremely interesting, a fact born of Rosenboom’s decision to explore his tools in a variety of distinct guises.
The opening track, Portable Gold and Philosophers’ Stones (music for brains in fours), is a work of classical purist drone, with long held tones modulated by patterns drawn directly from their performers brains. Rosenboom opts for fairly thin sources, and as such we escape much of the machoism found in some contemporary drone works. Rather than blasting the listener with intensity, it is the subtle – and in fairness, not so subtle – irregular modulations of its core tones that provides the interest, and this results in a fairly seductive listen.
Chilean Drought takes the proceedings in another direction entirely, using biofeedback to augment – in a manner I can’t quite put my finger on – the spoken text of four performers accompanying a quick and repetitive refrain upon a piano. It is a strange piece, one that seems to point to the minimalist movement of which Rosenboom was tangentially involved, and yet is somehow more minimal, more indebted to a less clearly articulated composition system. Here we perhaps see most clearly Rosenboom’s strength – though he may be implementing an admittedly clever compositional system, he’s equally a characterful and charming composer, a combination that makes any underlying methodology far more than a mere proof of concept.
Brainwave music is without doubt essential listening for fans of the 60’s and 70’s electronic avant-garde, and stands apart from the numerous Morton Subotnick inspired composers who were doing ostensibly similar things (minus the biofeedback) at that time. By invoking both early electronic composition, early minimalism, and an approach to the aleatoric that feels more in keeping with Keith Fullerton Whiteman than it does John Cage, Rosenboom is working in a unique field that still piques the interest more than forty years after its creation.