At one with nature and computers
Barton McLean
Barbara DeChario
Barton McLean
E. Michael Richards
Keith Notrab
Linda Green
Petersburgh Electrophilharmonia
Priscilla McLean
Catalog Number: 
new classical

Petersburg, NY

Release Date: 
Sep 28, 2010
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
One Sheet: 

Like his mentor, the maverick iconoclast Henry Cowell, Barton McLean has traveled the whole world of music, expanding his sonic palette and aural imagery while racking up the miles. Like his other main teacher, architect and electronic pioneer Iannis Xenakis, McLean respects no boundaries between acoustic and electronic musicmaking; he is at home with a piano as with developing new software instruments (such as the Composer’s Playpen). 

With this diverse pedigree McLean is uniquely qualified to straddle the worlds of technology and wilderness. From the uncannily precise performance of the Petersburgh Electrophilharmonia (they are a synthetic ensemble after all) to the field recording of the Musician Wren, McLean’s music integrates a large vision of nature in her manner of operation. 

The album begins with the “Concerto: States of Being,” for piano and electronic sounds. It is a virtuosic tour de force in which the ‘ensemble’ follows the soloist rather than the other way around—a nearly impossible feat in the ‘real’ concerto world. 

Stark contrast is a constant feature of this album as the next offering, “Ritual of the Dawn” illustrates. Flutes, clarinet, harp, percussion and piano combine in a seamless, evocative world where pulsative rhythmic ideas combine with dynamic outbursts, producing what Debussy might have created had he lived in the late 20th century. 

“Demons of the Night” bring us back to the realm of symphonic terror and leads us into McLean’s most current concerns. “Magic at Xanadu” and “Ice Canyons” represent the latest explorations of McLean’s venture into MAX/MSP software creation. They are classically balanced, mature works generated live in actual performances during his 2008 and 2010 tours with his McLean Mix duo (along with his wife Priscilla). 

The final work, “Rainforest Images II,” is described by McLean as his most sophisticated work in any genre. Being a hybrid of studio composition and live performance with voices, experimental woodwinds, and keyboards using as sources rainforest sounds recorded on three continents, all assembled in McLean’s studio, “Rainforest Images II” is all-embracing in its sonic breadth, emotional scope, and performance versatility. And the mystical ending is to make one weep, with voices trailing against the evocative drone, accompanied by the exquisite Musician Wren, recorded in the Amazon jungle. 

With Barton McLean as your guide you will have a muddy and heady tour of his elegant soundworlds. 

This release is part of the NEA-funded NYFA Series celebrating the work of composers who have won the New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships.


Barton McLean is firmly in the tradition of American innovators such as Ives, Cowell and Cage. The results he acheives are so elegantly thought through and complete in themselves that the epithet ‘experimental’ seems misplaced.

- Graham Simpson, International Record Review

And they are definitely their own people - even within the individualistic field of contemporary art music, they stand out as unique - doing it their own way, in the tradition of their Transcendentalist forebears, such as Henry Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Charles Ives. And this mention of Transcendentalist artists connects to another of their interests - they are both passionate environmentalists, and their work is suffused with their love and concern for the threatened natural environment.

- Warren Burt, Wusik Magazine

"Ice Canyons" is a fantasy in which the simulation of a string orchestra is heard to intensely romantic effect. "Rainforest Images II" bristles with dripping condensation and birdsong--actual birdsong sampled in the rainforests of Peru and Australia. It is dense with activity. "Ritual of the Dawn" was written at the MacDowell Colony. It is a piece of Debussian warmth written for a chamber ensemble of six. "Demons of the Night" uses electronic gurgling capering and is suitably melodramatic.

- Rob Barnett, Music Web International