Olivia Block

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Pure Gaze (1998), 6.5/10
Mobius Fuse (2001), 6/10
Change Ringing (2005), 7/10
Heave To (2006), 7/10
Aberration of Light (2015), 6.5/10
Dissolution (2016), 6/10
Untitled for Piano and Organ (2018), 5/10
132 Ranks (2018), 5/10

Olivia Block (USA, 1970), originally a rock guitarist and vocalist in Austin (Texas), and later a member of Alial Straa with Seth Nehil and John Grzinich, as documented on Tunnels/Stairwell (Orogenetics, 1997 - Alluvial, 2000), relocated to Chicago in 1996 where she met free improvisers like Jim O'Rourke and Jeb Bishop. Already the creator of a video soundtrack Fire-Fly (1997) and a Piece for Scrubbing Tile (1998), her first major achievement as an electronic composer was a trilogy started with Pure Gaze (Sedimental, 1998), a carefully architected 27-minute piece that fused acoustic chamber music (Jeb Bishop and Mark Fry on trombone, Kyle Bruckmann on English horn, two clarinetists), droning minimalism (a` la Ellen Fullman), glitch music, abstract soundscaping and computer-manipulated field recordings.

The second part of the trilogy, Mobius Fuse (2001), emphasized the "realistic" sounds, i.e. field recordings. There are two moments of tension in the 29-minute Mobius 1: a crescendo of crackling and tumbling noises, and a sequence of loud and sharp drones, each bookended by tranquil sounds of the forest. The brief Mobius 2 is a duet between a horn fanfare and crickets.

The third part, Change Ringing (Cut, 2005), a 30-minute composition, begins in a subdued tone but eventually explodes like a twirling supernova. It then abruptly turn to a rather mundane string of trivial noises that become the foundation for the improvisation on the acoustic instruments, notably by Jeb Bishop (trombone), Kyle Bruckmann (oboe) and Bhob Rainey (soprano saxophone). This is possibly the most powerful of the three compositions, a dramatic symphony of reverbs, pulses, drones and glitches.

Heave To (2006) emphasized dynamics via a seamless but also visceral blend of wildly manipulated field recordings and chamber instruments (notably the strings, with Block on cello, Jonathan Chen on violin and Jen-Claire Paulsen on viola). The 26-minute Heave To opens with oceanic waves of sounds and launches into a post-apocalyptic or extraterrestrial landscape. At the exact opposite end of ambient music, this is music embued with a high degree of hysteria. The second part of the suite is less extreme but still drenched in terror with the strings mounting a frontal attack against the radio signals resulting in a relatively humane coda. It is her most ambitious and most realized electro-acoustic composition. The album also contains the nine minute Make The Land, a much more subliminal and refined collage.

Resolution (august 2010) documents a collaboration between Greg Kelley and Olivia Block.

Teem (Either/OAR, 2010) documents a collaboration with San Francisco-based musician Kyle Bruckmann.

Aberration of Light (2015), originally born in 2011 as a collaboration with visual artists Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder, multi-part suite that moves slowly and seamlessly from pulsing sonic detritus to grandiose cosmic drones with, as usual, a creative use of "ambient" sounds, resulting in ghostly hisses and ominous rumbles that add to the dramatic crescendoes and subliminal decays of the main storyline..

While she was composing music with computers, she also pursued a live performance practice on (prepared) acoustic keyboards, as documented on Untitled for Piano and Organ (2018).

Dissolution (january 2015), premiered in 2013, is the opposite of Aberration of Light: a highly dynamic collage of found sounds and found voices. A live performance of this piece included walkie talkies, analog processing devices, micro-cassette recorders, an amplified autoharp, metal objects and small electronic instruments.

132 Ranks (2018) is a 49-minute composition for pipe organ, first performed in April 2017, and recorded in a chapel, that pays tribute to the quality of the instrument via a sequence of drones in various pitches.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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