Electronic Concert at Calarts

A review by Melody Peterson, printed in the May 8th, 1973 issue of the Los Angeles Times.

Enter a new musical wrinkle. University of Illinois composer Salvatore Martirano's electronic Sal-Mar Construction brings the composition, performance and production - every facet - of electronic music live into the conert hall.

Martirano introduced this instrrument to the Encounters Series audience Sunday night in the Main Gallery at Calarts.

Three years in the making (by Martirano and a group of experts skilled in computer science and electrical engineering as well as in music), the Sal-Mar offers its composer-performer innumerable musical possibilities at the slightest press of one or more of the unit's 291 touch-sensitive buttons.

On Sunday's program, Martirano presented three improvisations varying in length from 20 minutes to well over a half hour. Seated at the blinking-lighted buttonboard, a network of wires extending upward beyond his eye level to a chestful of analog circuitry, Martirano amazed and amused the listener with his machine's vast sonic vocabulary.

Heartbeat pulsations, whipcracks, lion's roars, chirpings, screams and drones flashed in unpredictable sequences through a system of 24 small (Poly-planar) speakers suspended in an intricate (and inescapable) web over the listeners' heads.

Ultimately, however, the pure novelty of sound effects gave way to the underlying musical controls established by the composer. The first improvisation, for example, seemed a rather moody, pointillistic study while the second acosted (and, yes, sometimes plain offended) the ear with the angry intensity of its outbursts.

For this listener, however, the third improvisation proved the most intriguing, largely because of an anonymous (talented) Calarts student who wandered onto the scene (as only a Calarts student can) with a one-of-a-kind musical instrument of his own.

To all appearances, the ungainly creation which challenged the mighty Sal-Mar was posthorn with saxaphone mouthpiece and newly drilled finger-holes: a David which tested the versatility of an ultra sophisticated Goliath and, equally as important, the aesthetic sensibilities of the Sal-Mar soloist.

Not too surprisingly, this Goliath acquitted itself nobly, As for Martirano... he opened up ample room for an exchange of ideas and turned an unseemly impromptu and potentially awkward affair into a persuasive work of art.