Lou Cohen - Reviews

From Vital Weekly

LOU COHEN - MUSIC (3CD by Pogus Productions)

With three CDs in a carton sleeve there is obviously not much room for a booklet, so there is a website which provides an insight into these pieces. Lou Cohen composed music for ensembles, 12 tone and serial techniques from 1960 to 1990, and after he has been using computers, and most importantly the CSound program. In 2004 he played his first concert in forty years and since then he plays around as a laptop improviser. Quite an odd career I'd say. These three CDs have twenty-three pieces from I assume the last ten years. Some of these pieces have a concept behind them, like 'Concerto', which is a sort of 'piano and orchestra' piece, but then all with computerized sounds, and some are just pieces of a more random organization. The nine 'symphonies' that we find partly on disc two and whole of disc three are the most chaotically sounding pieces, and reflect very much the more academic side of this kind of music. For me the first disc was the best. Maybe because it was my first step into over three hours of Cohen music, but also perhaps it was just closest to what I personally like. A nice combination of drone like sounds, glitched sounds and some level of organization among these sounds. Less chaotic, maybe also less improvised, this first disc is a true pleasure to hear, an excellent display of improvisation meeting more composed computer music, less dramatic, but in a fine shape. Lots of music here, but surely a few things (or more) could please anyone interested in laptop music.

From Avant Music News

Lou Cohen: Music [Pogus 21071-2]
The unassumingly titled Music is a 3 CD collection of recent electronic work from Boston area composer Lou Cohen. Cohen, whose early compositions grew out of algorithmic engagements with twelve-tone and serial methods, later turned to computer-based composition and granular synthesis - which in a sense was a logical development for him given the systematic nature of his previous compositional methods. The pieces collected here cover Cohen's work of the last ten or so years, and represent his varied approaches to electronic sounds and processes.

Disc 1 contains ten "shapes" - compositions based on control signals (the titular shapes) that determine the pitch, amplitude, duration and density of each composition's tones. In some of these works Cohen is concerned with using contemporary electronic means to engage more conventional notions of consonance and dissonance. For example Shape05 is centered around the tones of a dominant seventh chord, which dissolve into dissonances and then re-form into chord tones as the piece develops. Shape06 follows a similar pattern, this time using a chord progression rather than a single chord for its tonal points of reference.

Disc 2 features a heterogeneous set of works, including the lovely Harmonies. Somewhat reminiscent of John Cage's Quartets I-VIII, Harmonies takes brief, consonant bits of sound and arranges them in a way that resembles a randomized sequence of diatonic chords. Concerto, which borrows the concerto's soloist-and-accompaniment structure, samples toy piano, clavichord and marimba for the solo voice, and winds and strings for its orchestral setting.

Much of Disc 2 and all of Disc 3 are given over to Cohen's "symphonies." The symphonies are a variety of sound collage in which segments of sound sources are extracted and inserted into the final piece. The sources can be pre-existing synthesized sounds, sounds generated by Cohen's improvisations, or samples of acoustic instruments. An example of the latter is Symphony 6, which combines samples of flute and strings into a kind of artificial chamber quintet playing what sounds like a serial work with a pronounced number of starts and stops.

With its generous helping of works, Music provides a stimulating view into this distinctively systemic electronic composer.


From Downtown Music Gallery

LOU COHEN - Music [3 CD set] (Pogus 21071; USA) This release is an incredible overview of the works Lou Cohen, a pioneering electronic music composer and performer, with over three hours of music. Most of these pieces were composed by means of algorithmic and stochastic processes, with emphasis on granular synthesis. There is a great deal of information that Cohen gives about his works and methods of composition. For this information on his methods and the pieces themselves please go to: jolc.net/musicsite/notes.

Lou Cohen uses Csound as his primary tool for realizing compositions. Csound is a well-known, open-source, programmable music synthesizer. Its antecedents (called "MUSIC", "MUSIC II", "MUSIC III", ... ) were developed by Max Mathews at ATT Bell Labs starting in the 1950s. "MUSIC 11" was written by Barry Vercoe at the MIT Media Lab. Vercoe then rewrote this software and renamed it as Csound. Eventually Csound was given open-source status, making it freely available. Cohen's compositions from 1960 to 1990 were written for a range of instrumental ensembles, and generally algorithmically employed 12-tone and serial techniques. A few of these pieces used open score and chance processes as well. Starting around 1990, Cohen switched to composing using computer-generated sounds and software-computed structures. The programmable synthesizer Csound has been the primary tool for this work along with software of his own design. Lou Cohen has composed music since age 11. He studied mathematics at MIT, and has studied music privately. Composition teachers include John Cage, Ernst Levy and Alan Kemler. He studied harpsichord and early music performance practice with John Gibbons. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. 3 CD set for $22

Back To Main Music Page

Back To Album Notes