Solos and electronics illuminate each other
Alexandra Gardner
Alexandra Gardner
Barbara Held
Carlos Gil Ferrer
Enrique Malo Lop
Harry Sparnaay
Robert Armengol
Xelo Giner
Catalog Number: 

Barcelona, Spain

Release Date: 
Sep 26, 2006
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
Gardner, A.: LuminosoiTunes Artist's PageiTunes Album Page
Song TitleTimePrice
6.New Skin14:47
One Sheet: 

Luminoso features six vibrant works of chamber music for solo instrument with electronics. This much-anticipated release by composer Alexandra Gardner was created in Barcelona, Spain where Gardner resided during a two-year composer residency at the IUA/Phonos Foundation of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra from 2002-2004.

The compositions on Luminoso treat musician and electronics as dynamic characters that sing, chatter, bite and roar their way through a variety of dramatic musical scenarios that range from playful coexistence to frenzied debate. Interacting in surprising and imaginative ways, acoustic instruments join forces with shimmering electronic soundscapes, resulting in music that affects the audience with its expressive power.

Gardner is stirring up modern music circles with her innovative blend of instrumental and electronic music. Her mixed ensemble works have been championed by groups such as the SOLI Chamber Ensemble, Contemporary Music Forum, Percussions de Barcelona, Duo Levent and the Aspen Contemporary Players. Her music has been featured at festivals and performance spaces throughout the US, Europe and Japan, including the Akiyoshidae International Art Village, Centro de Cultua Contemporania de Barcelona, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Joyce SOHO, CrossSound Music Festival, The Library of Congress and The Kennedy Center. She has worked extensively with modern dance choreographers, including collaborations with Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Sharon Mansur, and Deborah Riley Dance Projects. In addition to her residency in Barcelona, Gardner has been a composer-in-residence at Harvestworks Digital Media Center, The Atlantic Center for the Arts, and The MacDowell Colony.

This recording brings together a group of the finest musicians from Spain and beyond: classical guitarist Enrique Lop, saxophonist Xelo Giner, percussionist Robert Armengol, trombonist Carlos Gil Ferrer, ex-pat new music flutist Barbara Held, and Dutch bass clarinet virtuoso Harry Sparnaay deliver striking, vital performances to be relished in repeated listenings. Evoking colorful sound worlds that communicate emotion and depth while breaking down traditional lines between performer and technology, the music of Luminoso has, as composer Annea Lockwood writes, “…an inherent joyousness at its core, a gift in these difficult times.”



Some folks document overseas trips with group e-mails, blog entries and snapshots by the megapixel. Others do well to drop a few postcards in the mailbox—usually the day they get home. Call Alexandra Gardner an overachiever: Luminoso, a disc of vivid electroacoustic pieces, provides an account of her two-year residency at the Institut Universitari del’Audiovisual/Phonos Foundation in Barcelona. advertisement The hardware and software Gardner employs on Luminoso respond to her commands like a pianist’s Steinway or a fiddler’s Strad; her electronic elements seem to move with the same volition and flexibility as her human collaborators. Even so, nothing meanders: Each work on Luminoso has a shape, a momentum and a destination. The title track surrounds guitarist Enrique Malo Lop’s flamenco strums with a crepuscular light fashioned from acoustic-guitar sounds. In Tourmaline, Xelo Giner’s soprano saxophone dances with lines of chatter and glitch. The woody plunk of Robert Armengol’s marimba in Ayehli rises above a steely ambience, recorded at Ground Zero in December 2001, like a hardy stem pushing through a crack in the sidewalk. Bass clarinetist Harry Sparnaay navigates alien terrain in Ónice, while in Snapdragon, trombonist Carlos Gil Ferrer pursues a ghostly counterpart through the streets of Barcelona. New Skin, which closes the disc, pairs Barbara Held’s alto flute and Gardner’s computer in a slow-moving duologue, by turns meditative and gritty.

by Steve Smith


[...] Gardner really does have a lot to say on her own terms.

by Ken Smith


Made up of works composed during a two-year spell as visiting composer at the IUA/Phonos Foundation in Barcelona, Alexandra Gardner’s Lumínoso is an album of warm light and cool evening breezes. All six tracks are for soloists and electronics, and several of the performers here were Gardner’s Spanish colleagues. From the sensitivity with which their performances have been balanced against the electronic aspects of the pieces, one can guess that their playing was no small inspiration for the composer. The six tracks are characterised overall by a fluid dynamic between solo line and rich electro-acoustic texture. In some tracks the electronics might first provide a sonic penumbra around the soloist, then work with it closely, sampling and layering multi-track polyphonies. Transitions are treated so seamlessly it becomes impossible to tell where one mode begins and the other ends; untangling this becomes your way into glittering spaces within the music. In other tracks, rather than teasing out contrasts from a single material source, acoustic instrument and electronics operate in open, confrontational dialogue. The strength of Gardner’s often spellbinding music on this CD is its thoughtful composition. You sense at each turn that everything has been considered and weighed before proceeding, and that soloist and electronics are ultimately in the service of a compositional form, rather than a loosely-imagined concept. Trusting in these frameworks, Gardner can allow her soloists - who all play with considerable generosity of expression - the space to interpret; more mysteriously, she draws similarly arresting performances from her software and samplers too. Throughout, the electronics have a hands-on-the-controls live performance feel to them, and it is this tactility that makes this such a convincing album.

by Tim Rutherford-Johnson


the darkness of brief winter days is getting you down, Alexandra Gardner has proffered a cure. Luminoso, a six-minute work for guitar and samples which also lends its title to this disc of "solo with sounds" pieces, is inspired by the sunlight in Barcelona. The rhythms and timbres of flamenco-style guitar playing dominate the opening measures, but the bed of processed guitar sounds underneath pull things in a more ethereal direction. I'm not sure you'd hear the sunlight without the program-note suggestion, but the music's movement—both in the acoustically finger picked and in the electronically crafted—generates an inherent warmth.

by MS


Sarà pure banale, ma nominando Barcellona le prime cose che vengono in mente sono i colori, l'atmosfera festosa, lo scorrere ovattato del tempo e la luce dorata che caratterizzano la città spagnola. Molto pertinente allora il titolo di questo disco che dalla città di Gaudì trae la sua ispirazione, e che cerca di trasmettere sotto forma musicale parte delle suggestioni che tanto rendono affascinante la sua musa. Da un recente viaggio in città della compositrice/musicista Alexandra Gardner, e dall'incontro con virtuosi musicisti locali, di stanza negli studi della IUA Phonos Foundation, scaturisce dunque quest’opera che in maniera sistematica nelle sue tracce si dedica ad esplorare le possibilità di convivenza e contaminazione reciproca tra strumenti acustici e suoni elettronici; sia di natura prettamente sintetica che tratti da rielaborazioni di campionamenti ambientali. Per ogni traccia, un solo strumento per volta, dalla chitarra al flauto, passando per sax, marimba, clarinetto e trombone. Niente affollamenti strumentali quindi, e neanche sperimentazione estrema o generata del caso, che spesso fa tanto avant e che tanto mi/ci piace, poiché ogni brano è il risultato di un meticoloso processo compositivo, e l'elettronica si muove con passi delicati, calibratissimi, in mirabile equilibrio con la controparte acustica che non viene mai svilita né deformata. Sta proprio qui il fascino di questo disco, che ad un primo frettoloso ascolto mi è sembrato eccessivamente educato ed accademico, nel modo così naturale, potendo usare un termine anglofono direi seamless, con cui l'elettronica s'intrufola e decora con leggiadri tocchi di pennellate multicolore le piste del disco. La title track, che sicuramente mantiene fede al suo titolo, essendo illuminata da lampi flamenco, può trarre inizialmente in inganno, scarse le tracce evidenti di interventi elettronici. In effetti, qui l'elettronica si limita essenzialmente a campionare la stessa chitarra acustica, ne specchia le mosse, inghiotte e fa riaffiorare le note, produce, come anche altrove, complessi incastri polifonici, rendendo difficile ed inutile, identificare e separare i protagonisti. Sicuramente più evidente l'animato botta e risposta tra sax e computer in Tourmaline, dove le liriche evoluzioni del sax (e delle sue copie fantasma) vengono continuamente e fermamente interrotte da risucchi elettronici che rendono la composizione molto avvincente. Inizia invece come un giro di laptop del Kurzmann più addomesticato Ayehli, la marimba lo strumento protagonista, a cui si aggiungono field recordings provenienti da Ground Zero, che in più momenti ricorda le escursioni più colorate dei Tortoise ma anche Steve Reich. Introdotta dai rumori di un nuovo giorno (il canto del gallo, le campane della chiesa...), chiude la lunga "sunrise meditation" di New Skin: musica di rinascita e re-inizio, che fonde la flebile melodia zen del flauto con i suoni processati del gong, delle percussioni, ed una miriade di effetti striscianti ed enigmatici. Tra ambient, tentazioni mistiche, fluorescenze digitali e documentazione naturalistica (acqua? uccelli? chiacchiericcio?), per le mie orecchie il piatto forte della raccolta. Notevoli per tutta la durata del disco l'inventiva e l'eclettismo degli interventi della Gardner, mai uguali a se stessi, sempre graziati da un tocco sensibile e sapiente, operosi come delle formichine che scavano sottoterra, lontane dallo sguardo, per poi emergere di tanto in tanto con forza da qualche pertugio, producendo risultati di una piacevolezza e freschezza disarmanti. Luminoso, proprio come da titolo programmatico.

by Alfio Castorina


To some acoustic music fans, electronics are the Devil's Tool. But, regardless whether it's a wood flute, a turntable, or a synthesizer, all are means to make sounds most humans can't generate on their own. That said, contemporary composer Alexandra Gardner finds a nexus between both worlds- each piece here is for a solo instrument (acoustic guitar, marimba, soprano sax, bass clarinet) palying in tandem with some variation of electronic media (sampler,computer,etc.). One of the cool things about Luminoso is it's often difficult to tell where the "human element" ends and the "artificial intelligence" begins. The other is the meditative (though not always soothing) aspect of Gardner's compositions- fascinating, stimulating stuff, smack-dab in the middle of the post-serial cerebral (Christian Wolff, Morton Feldman) and the "repeating patterns" crews (Terry Riley, Steve Reich). Fine by me.

by Mark Keresman