Frances White

(b. 1960)

mode 184

Centre Bridge – Electroacoustic Works


mode 184 Frances White: Centre Bridge: electroacoustic worksLike the lily for viola, double bass, and electronic sound; Centre Bridge for shakuhachi duo and electronic sound; A veil barely seen for viola and electronic sound; Walk through “Resonant landscape” No. 2 for electronic sound; Centre Bridge (dark river) for string quintet and electronic sound.

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Centre Bridge - Electroacoustic Works
The 4th work a recording of a "walk" through the composer's Resonant landscape, originally an interactive installation using musique concrète and computer. (viewed Feb. 7, 2013). Liuh-Wen Ting, viola (1st, 3rd works) ; Troy Rinker Jr., double bass (1st, 6th) ; Elizabeth Brown, shakuhachi (2nd) ; Pauline Kim, Airi Yoshioka, violins, David Cerutti, viola, Susannah Chapman, violoncello, Paul Hostetter, conductor (5th). Recorded in 2000. Previously released as a compact disc.

Like the lily (1999)   (14:20)
for viola, double bass, and electronic sound
Liuh-Wen Ting, viola
Troy Rinker Jr., double bass

Centre Bridge (1999)   (12:02)
for shakuhachi duo and electronic sound
Elizabeth Brown, shakuhachi

A veil barely seen (2000)   (13:26)
for viola and electronic sound
Liuh-Wen Ting, viola

Walk through “Resonant landscape” No. 2 (1992)   (9:55)
for electronic sound

Centre Bridge (dark river) (2001)   (11:54)
for string quintet and electronic sound
Pauline Kim, first violin
Airi Yoshioka, second violin
David Cerutti, viola
Susannah Chapman, cello
Troy Rinker Jr., double bass
Paul Hostetter, conductor

first recordings

Much of Frances White’s music is inspired by her love of nature, and her electronic works frequently include natural sound recorded near her home in central New Jersey.

This is the first complete disc of White’s electro-acoustic works, both with or without instruments.

Centre Bridge is one of several bridges crossing the Delaware River, connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It is a nondescript bridge, not particularly attractive, nor does it have a grand history. What Centre Bridge does have is a beautiful voice. The roadway on the bridge consists of a metal grating, and the cars passing over this create low drones, their tones shifting as they speed up and slow down. While on vacation some years ago, Frances White walked across Centre Bridge and discovered the music of the bridge, and it opened up a whole world for her.

This disc is titled Centre Bridge because it has inspired two of the works contained on it. But beyond this, it is because the role that the bridge has played in White’s work is so characteristic of her music. Her music is about listening deeply: encountering sound in the world (especially the natural world) and immersing herself in it. From this experience, she develops an image from it through intuition. It is this image, drawn from experience, that she then brings out again into the world through her music. To engage her work is to take a walk with her through her inner and outer sense of sound.

Like the Lily utilizes quiet, indistinct, irregular pulsing electronic sounds, while the instrumentalists play simple overlapping extended tones over this delicate texture – using electronic sound to create a sonic space to hold the instrumental music.

In A veil barely seen the purling water is heard throughout, its natural pitches combined with White’s imagined ones. The viola moves through this space as one stream flows into another, from bare outward sound to the various moods and tones of White’s inner reflections.

Centre Bridge (dark river) uses the Delaware River as a backdrop; the pitch bends and transitions of the low strings are simple transcriptions of the sounds of actual traffic on the bridge: “The bridge transforms the sound of traffic into a kind of music,” says White, “into something beautiful.”

Liner notes by James Pritchett.


Frances White
Centre Bridge: electroacoustic works

Mode 184

Frances White (b. 1960) writes a very precise and personal sort of electroacoustic music, but one whose innate lyricism and humility never allows the technology to show off.  She seems to base her practice on the intense aural observation of place, and the absorption of that environment into her very fiber.  Out of that osmosis pieces emerge.

The oldest work on the disk (1992) is Walk through “Resonant landscape” No. 2.  It was originally an installation that allowed a listener/observer to indicate a point on a computer controlled map, which would in turn lead to a series of sounds keyed to the locations on explored.  The results are subtle.  At times there are gorgeous, unaltered natural sounds, like a flight of geese.  At other times, the natural sounds are filtered into a dreamlike collection of flickers and drones, often transformed so far as to seem purely electronic.  This version is a recording of one of these walks, since annotator James Pritchett indicates the technology for the interactive realization of the piece is now completely obsolete.

Centre Bridge is the title of this album, and of two pieces on the collection.  It is – as Pritchett’s lucid notes relate – a nondescript bridge crossing the Delaware between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  White listened to the drones that emerged from the bridge’s structure as cars passed over, combined it with the natural sounds of the water underneath, and from this created a sonic backdrop against which she could draw the lines of the acoustic instruments’ parts.  The two Centre Bridge(s) are for shakuhachi duo (Japanese bamboo flute) and string quintet, from 1999 and 2001, respectively.  The first emphasizes the structural drone, the second the water.  Both reach points of gentle rapture, the former as a sort of Japanese expressionism, the latter more in the spirit of French Impressionism.  Like the lily (1999) suffuses the music for its string duo with aspects of the plainchant Alleluia: Justus germinabit.  As it proceeds, the electroacoustic part brings the sweeping sounds of wind and rain into the texture, and the effect is truly dreamlike and refreshing.  The fit between the acoustic and recorded sounds is unexpected, and yet totally right.  A veil barely seen (2000) is an extended rhapsodic meditation for viola over the sound of water, and latter of which is slowly unmasked to reveal ever more rich and dramatic sounds.  It is as though a percussion ensemble slowly materializes from the mists.

This sense of a music derived from the environment suggests the approach of composers like Annea Lockwood or Pauline Oliveros, but White is also still very committed to sweeping, more traditionally lyrical musical gestures.  So one ends up with a very personal and uncategorizable blend of the classical and experimental in her work.  Some may feel the blend isn’t pure enough for their taste, but I love the way it stretches across these boundaries.  And everything is guided by a very sure and focused taste.  It’s scrupulous.  And it also bespeaks much tenderness.

The performances all seem exquisite. I can’t help but give particular praise to the shakuhachi playing of Elizabeth Brown, who plays both parts of the duo via multitracking; she’s one of the real American virtuosos of the instrument, and as anyone who might reference earlier reviews I’ve written of her own music in Fanfare will note, a comparably strong and original composer.

Ultimately this is a release that brings deep pleasures, but they sneak up on you.  White is a voice from which I’ll anticipate future releases.
— Robert Carl, Fanfare, September/October 2008

Frances White
Centre Bridge: electroacoustic works

Mode 184

Princeton-based composer Frances White has been working in electro-acoustic music since at least 1985; her works have been widely anthologized in collections of electronic and computer music, but Mode’s Centre Bridge appears to be the first omnibus on CD devoted exclusively to her work. While the chronological compass of the five pieces included span a decade-long period from 1992 to 2001, there is a strong sense of continuity between all of these pieces. Rather than viewing the situation in metaphorical terms of composing computer music like being a Picasso with two billion colors on her palette, as the inference has been made elsewhere, White favors perhaps about two dozen colors that she applies rather sparingly and with a great deal of patient refining. An avid gardener, White draws inspiration from both manmade and natural sources; the tones generated by a “singing bridge” that runs between Pennsylvania and New Jersey or in populating a musical work in that manner that the bulbs she plants populates her garden.

Of the five selections, only Walk through “Resonant landscape” No. 2 is purely electronic; White is somewhat fonder of supplementing her electronic pieces with parts for live instruments, and often the human players are used merely to sustain tones or enter and exit at certain times. “Even though they have just a few notes in them,” White has said, “I think of these pieces as being quite virtuosic,” and she is right. White’s music is not only virtuosic in the way it makes players wait until just the right moment to sound, but also it is very generous to musicians when they are asked to step forward from that role for a bit. Listen to how magisterial and full-throated Liuh-Weh Ting’s viola is during her brief solo on Like the lily, or in her more substantial turn in A veil barely seen, or the way the double bass works in the overall texture of Centre Bridge (dark river).

Frances White is so committed to maintaining the balance of her careful, painterly and landscape-like constructions might lead some to complain that there are no “people” in her music. Not to put words in Frances White’s mouth, but it calls to mind a comment made by Dutch documentarian Bert Haanstra early in his career, “I can handle nature, but I’ve not yet learned to handle people and their problems.” On the other hand, White’s devotion to atmosphere and color has won the attention of a different filmmaker, Gus van Sant, whose film Paranoid Park won the Sixtieth Anniversary Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007; it utilized Frances White’s music rather extensively. Frances White’s works on Mode’s Centre Bridge is diverting in that the elements of the music, though underplayed in their presentation and relatively gentle sounding in comparison to those common to most “computer music” add up to a result that is provocative and challenging, creating its own rules.
— Dave Lewis, All Music Guide, September 2007


Elizabeth Brown profile

David Cerutti profile

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Paul Hostetter profile

Pauline Kim profile

Troy Rinker profile

Liuh-Wen Ting profile

Frances White profile

Airi Yoshioka profile