Meerenai Shim’s Art of Noise: Sophisticated, yet Accessible

Luigi Rossolo’s 1913 manifesto, “The Art of Noises,” advocated for the inclusion of a wide variety of sounds in music, keeping pace with the industrializing and increasingly diverse sonic world. One hundred years later, flutist Meerenai Shim has incorporated this idea in her solo album of the same name, presenting five new pieces that take inspiration loosely from Russolo’s writing in a way he might not have recognized. This diverse collection displays adventure and technical ability in its execution.

Meerenai Shim - Photo Diana Maire

Meerenai Shim – Photo Diana Maire

Opening the album is Daniel Felsenfeld’s To Committee: A Self Parody, a trio featuring Lori Lack on piano and Paul Rhodes on cello. Lively ostinatos and an omnivorous harmonic language underpin the piece’s clear forms in its three movements. Shim’s flute is particularly captivating in the third movement, where it plays a sweet yet desperate melodic foil to the churning cello and piano rhythms.

The centerpiece of the album, The Art of Noise by Janice Misurell-Mitchell, combines the widest range of techniques and instrumental timbres. It relies on counterpoint between the flute and varied pitched percussion, played with nuance by Christopher Jones. As the piece moves towards breathier and more aggressive timbres in the flute, Jones switches fluidly between bongos, flowerpots, and temple blocks. Shim speaks words from Russolo’s manifesto into her instrument (translated into different languages) as the piece culminates in a percussion gesture that ends with the most Russolo-like signifier: a siren wail.

Jay Batzner’s Mercurial lives up to its name, alternating sections of dark electronic ambience with quick, mechanical pulsations. The flute unites these disparate soundworlds with a similarly mercurial flute part, beginning in the low register of the instrument and moving towards flighty fragmentation. The piece recalls Debussy’s “Syrinx” with an industrial edge that Shim negotiates with skill.

Matthew Joseph Payne’s flight of the bleeper bird approaches noise in a decidedly 21st-century way, appropriating the lo-fi sounds of the Gameboy in a texture that recalls the high-energy pixelated games of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Shim’s flute acts as an extension of this world, blending in as an extra voice rather than as a soloist against a computerized orchestra. This combination is most effective when the forces imitate each other: a Gameboy glissando in the first movement (“i fought the DAW and the DAW won”) sounds like a recognizable contemporary flute technique, and the nimble and bright flute gestures in the third movement (“the entire world is slowly turning into snails”) imitate and complement the crackling 8-bit melodies.

the-art-of-noice-cover-artDavid E. Farrell’s moonwave for solo flute ends the album. The intimate and detailed production showcases Shim’s sensitive interpretation of this short meditation built of lengthening, rhapsodic phrases that arc delicately to a quiet closing – “music of the night” in the composer’s own words.

Overall, “The Art of Noise” is an enjoyable and charming exploration of a range of styles and instrumentations. Meerenai Shim’s engaging playing highlights the common thread running through these pieces – sophisticated, yet accessible.

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