CNVR06 | 07.12.2005


Sotto Voce

format: CDR | packaging: discbox slider

duration: 55 minutes, 5 tracks

limited to 60 numbered copies (third edition)


price: 9.00 euros - shipping included




Poised somewhere between mechanical music & chamber pieces (for pizzicato cello), these tracks herald the return of the avantgarde to her original locality: the salon, this heart of 'bourgeois' society. The non-communicative qualities of the modernistic literary avantgarde (of which James Joyce & Gertrude Stein in particular may be considered iconographic), we find here in the sublimated form of tranquil and austere monophonies, the unique character of which - each voice, each work, each individual genius - now comes to reside purely in the abstracted prosody of midi-triggered cello samples. This is altogether an undeniably 'post-modern' take on modernism: the unrelentless and self-consuming presence of the original art of which these pieces are derived (the pieces are taken from the voices of Gertrude Stein and James Joyce reading from their works) has now taken a much more diluted and yet more immanent form: a music which having soaked up all the heavy-weighing ambiance of artistic ideals & pretension and, having become satiated, now softly leaks out into the salon as conversation pieces, bringing human life in all its 'ordinariness' (the inverted comma's, being the trade-mark of postmodernity, signifying its own special character) back into the room, and perhaps breathing new life into the idea of the salon.


liner notes by Mark Pauwen


The Wire


There's a school of thought that the only thing worth listening to these days is 'what the hell is this?' music. Sound that really bewilders. Add New York composer John Hudak to that list. Sotto Voce is like an inscrutable smile: five pieces for solo pizzicato cello. A medium-paced, irregular plucking and a warm, attractive sound. There's limited range of notes, so we can say it's modal. But the cello is denatured - no breathing, no finger noise, no unevenness in the damping of strings. There's an illusion of real-time playing, but no human could play so cleanly and clinically. Are these samples of cello notes, triggered by computer?. So the music is not what it seems, yet at the same time, like a hi-tech abstract painting, what you see is what you get: phrases of cello notes that could go on forever. We're close to visual art, and the album squats vlanky like an installation, a machine doing its best to sound human. Hudak maintains a poker face throughout, and his CD sleeve lets no cats out of bags. However, the press release invokes Gertrude Stein and sprinkles around some inverted commas: 'human life in all its ordinariness'; 'an undeniably post-modern take on modernism'. Another way of ssaying: what the hell is this?.


[ Clive Bell ]





Those that know John Hudak's drone album Brooklyn bridge (Shirocoal, 1998) will realize how his style has developed since than.

Sotto voce consists of five almost identical pieces in which cello strings play the central role. The music is filigrant, fragile and sensible. The press text mentions a return of the avantgarde to her original locality; the salon, this heart of ’bourgeois' society.

And it must be admitted, listening to this abum reminds of highly sophisticated harp music with the emphasis on the plucking of the strings. One can imagine oneself sitting in a wonderful sunny garden of a palace listening to this pleasant music, while drinking a good glass of wine.


[ Phosphor mag ]



Paris Transatlantic


Devotees of John Hudak's other recordings, which have originated in sound sources as diverse as underwater insects, birds, grass, motor traffic and answering machine messages, might be surprised by this one. Its sounding material consists of recorded pizzicato cello pitches played on a sampler, MIDI-triggered by a Max/MSP audiofile conversion of recordings of Gertrude Stein and James Joyce reading their own work. As such, it is, as Mark Pauwen notes in the liners, "an undeniably 'post-modern' take on modernism: the unrelentless [sic] and self-consuming presence of the original art of which these pieces are derived [..] has now taken a much more diluted and yet more immanent form." It's also another one of those paradoxical works that are constantly changing while remaining instantly recognizable. Once you've heard it you won't forget it, but you'll never be able to repeat it, unless you're Dominic O'Brien (check this out, this'll blow your mind But if you've ever read Stein (or tried to) and "balked at her soporific rigmaroles, her echolaliac incantations, her half-witted-sounding catalogues on numbers," to quote Edmund Wilson, you'll recognise and appreciate Sotto Voce's gentle quasi-iteration. "We cannot retrace our steps, going forward may be the same as going backwards. We cannot retrace our steps, retrace our steps. All my long life, all my long life, we do not retrace our steps, all my long life, but. (A silence a long silence)"

What Stein and Joyce are to modernism, John Cage is to post-modernism, I guess. There's nothing today's sound artists, improvisers and composers like to do more than namecheck Cage, but more as a cultural liberating force than as a composer, rather in the spirit of Schoenberg's famous assessment of his former student: "He's not a composer, he's an inventor of genius." But Arnold was wrong (not for the first time, either – remember all that twaddle about serialism assuring the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years?): Cage was a composer, and even if his most famous work is the infamous 4'33", his early music is no less worthy of attention. In both its concern for process and its restricted vocabulary of just a handful of diatonic pitches, what Hudak's work recalls most strongly is Cage's early piano and toy piano pieces. In fact, if it were scored for prepared piano, people would have been quick to spot the connection. As it is, not many people have. But then Hudak has always specialised in exploring the sonic boundary lines, and once more a beautiful and discreet release of his has slipped out under the radar. Sotto voce, indeed. Perhaps Gertrude was right after all: "Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense."


[ Dan Warburton ]



Dusted Magazine


John Hudak may be a new name to many, but has been an adventurer in sound since the age of 4, when he first began to develop his chops upon a variety of instrumentation. His time at university was spent broadening his artistic scope to encompass video work, photography, creative writing and dance. It was not long before he started composing his own soundtracks for the performance art pieces he would create and enact. Recent years have seen the American concentrate his efforts on sound and, in particular, the voice of nature.

Sotto Voce is a continuation of his explorations in the linguistic realm. While 2004's Room With Sky used the composer's own voice as source material to create a marathon piece of vibrant noise, this latest work focuses on the voice patterns of two bastions of the literary avant-garde, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce (T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett were among those not to make the final cut). Recordings of the pair reading from their own works “The Making of Americans” and “Finnegan's Wake” were converted by Hudak into musical notes using pitch and velocity, then transferred to the sound of a particular instrument, in this case a midi-triggered pizzicato cello.

The end results have a meandering quality not, unsurprisingly, unlike the gentle undulations of the human voice, but are reminiscent too of some entries in Morton Feldman's minimalist canon. Unfortunately, like the human voice, too much Sotto Voce can leave you weary, the cello's monotonous tone stretching the patience a little too far.

Still, this is an interesting exercise which leaves plenty of room for after thought. One is left wondering, for instance, whether a listener's familiarity with either the texts or the author's voice may enhance the experience. And what would be the consequences for melody, timbre and expression if foreign languages were used instead of English? Hudak himself has ambitions for the project with the next stage being a series of solo performances given by the composer, with Hudak reading texts aloud while his voice is converted to music in real time.


[ Spencer Grady ]



Touching Extremes


The only source of sound in this CD is a sampled cello (played "pizzicato"); furthermore, there is no counterpoint or polyphony, just variations on pretty robotical melodic lines wandering around the same group of notes. At first it may sound as a joke, if not thoroughly crazy, with these slow, disjointed pluckings breaking the silence like a drunkard walking at night in uncertain direction, his balance barely maintained. Yet, after a while it starts working in a peculiar way, as these zig-zagging repetitions seem to reproduce the sound of leaking water into a pan left unwashed for weeks - or maybe a slo-mo version of Sylvester the cat's walking towards Tweety to surprise him. As far as creativity is concerned, we're not in presence of something worthy of superlatives; nevertheless, "Sotto voce" is certainly an atypical relaxing company which never trespass the limits of boredom.


[ Massimo Ricci ]





John Hudak once again delivers a superb and exceptionally reduced work, as is his trademark. 'Sotto Voce' is a series of plucked string (cello, I think) pieces that uses imple scales and progressions to create a really relaxed, yet hypnotic atmosphere. Some people may find this heavy going but the subtle variations between each track - regardless of the fact that he uses the same sound each time - really give a surprisingly different feel to each piece. Essentially a very nice album indeed. Superb.


[ Mike Oliver ]



Vital Weekly


Things have been quiet for John Hudak, or at least from my perspective. One of the true masters of microsound, returning with a highly conceptual work. If understood rightly, this work is for 'midi-triggered cello samples', triggered by the reading of works by Gertrude Stein and James Joyce. Music for the salon: the meeting place of the modern of almost a century ago. Someone reading poetry, someone playing the cello: the bourgeois notion of modern art. In the five pieces the solo pizzicato cello is the one and only instrument, nothing else happens. No electronics, no glitches, no processing. That makes this not really an easy release. As with good conceptual art, the result it is not really important but the story behind it, and that is the also the case here. The idea behind the piece (or pieces, depends on how you view this release) is very nice, but five pieces of similar music in total is a bit too much. A shorter release, say twenty or so minutes, would have made the sa me point and it would have been a lovely release altogether too. Now it's like a great dinner, but it's so much food that you can't eat it all.


[ Frans de Waard ]