Life would be intolerable without music, but sometimes what passes as music is itself barely tolerable.
"Music by Salvatore Martirano" was the heading of the program in the Conservatorium last night, and through much of it I sat, with flinching ears, hoping against hope that someone would put an end to it all.Twice I thought my hope had been fulfilled, but that was only because the electronic gadgetry broke down.
Now Salvatore Martirano, late of the University of Illinois and currently composer-in-residence at the Con, is a highly respected and widely subsidised figure in the academically inbred spirals of the American avant-garde.
It is not every composer who can get performances - even a recording - of a work scored for gas-masked politico, helium bomb, three 16mm projectors and a two-channel tape from which issue words of Abraham Lincoln.
Oddly enough, the painfully loud sound-track of this 25-minute multi-media scream was almost coincidental to the phantasmagorical images on the triple film by Ronald Nameth, a sort of hysterical fantasia showing - well, what? War? Death? Apocalypse? Nightmare? Space-travel? Nuclear annihilation?
Fortunately it had a happy ending!
The program began with a stuttering mayhem of taped musique concrete noises titled Fifty-One(the composer's age in 1978) and continued with an atonal violin sonata, some frigidly whimsical Chansons Innocentes (1957) to e.e. cummings verse, and Cocktail Music (1962) for piano, on which Lisa Moore mustered brilliant power and athleticism to play music that suggested demented mice in hobnailed boots scampering around on the keyboard.
In general terms, this was a program not so much performed as inflicted.