Ron Nagorcka - Atom Bomb Becomes Folk Art
very essence of electronic music is distortion!” This declaration, one
of the spoken passages of Ron Nagorcka’s Atom Bomb for toy instruments,
cassette tape records and miscellaneous devices, stands as a kind of
epigram for the open and experimental spirit behind much of the music
in this 2 CD survey of Nagorcka’s work.
Raised on a sheep farm in Western Victoria in Australia, Nagorcka was
immersed in the sounds of the natural world—sounds that were to play a
significant role in his music later in life. His formal music studies
included pipe organ and harpsichord performance as well as composition
and electronic music, the latter in California under the tutelage of
Robert Erickson, Pauline Oliveros, Kenneth Gaburo and John Silber.
Returning to Australia, he taught composition and in the 1980s moved to
a remote part of Tasmania, where he is as much a naturalist as he is a
The pieces collected in this set cover a thirty year period, running
from 1973’s Finite Differences for pipe organ duet, to three works from
2006. Some of the early work is represented by archival recordings of
first—and sometimes only—performances. Taken together, they trace the
progress of Nagorcka’s interests and the developments in sound
technology that helped him to realize them.
The earliest pieces represented here show Nagorcka exploring pitch and
timbre with often innovative—and sometimes unreliable—sound sources.
Finite Differences’ combination of a limited set of notes and chords
with manipulation of the pipe organ’s stops results in a series of
dissonant harmonies sandwiched by a low frequency throb and high
frequency drones. Modulation (1974) is a later studio reworking of a
recording of a malfunction-ridden performance featuring reel-to-reel
tape loops and a VCS3 synthesizer. Requiem (1976) for solo piano and
Atom Bomb (1977) are new performances of works quite different in
structure and feeling. The latter, realized by the trio Golden Fur in
2010, is a gradually accumulating cacophony of spoken fragments, sung
lines and miscellaneous sounds building in density, volume and general
noisiness over a quietly languid chord progression. Requiem, performed
by pianist Nicholas Cummings in 2012, is a haltingly spare memorial to
Melbourne composer Ian Bonighton.
The newer work explores alternative tunings or scales as well as field
recordings of Australian fauna and locations. The multipart Artamidae
(2002) and June Bluffing for Quamby (2006) complement field recordings
of birds or landmarks with just intonation and changing time
signatures. With myriad degrees of light-dark infusion (2006) is
another work in just intonation, scored for an electroacoustic chamber
ensemble of trombone, clarinet, cello and MIDI using a 43-tone scale
created by Harry Partch. A pungently polyphonic piece, its crossing
lines often produce slightly alien-sounding harmonies.
All in all, a rich and highly diverse collection of work.- Dan Barbiero, Avant Music News
Pogus is simply the best in finding composers that are a bit older, but
somehow never released a lot of work, for whatever reason. Here for
instance it's time for the music of Ron Nagorcka (1948), who studied
pipe organ, harpsichord, composition and electronic music. In 1986 he
build his own solar-powered studio in Tasmania, where he still lives.
The pieces on this double CD span forty years of composing, and show
his wide interest. Although first time round I played this in
chronological order, first disc one than disc two, the review starts
with the second disc. Overall the work of Nagorcka is quite diverse and
on this second disc we find the pieces that are more for small
ensembles and general could be called 'modern classical music'. It's
the area of music where I must admit I don't know much about.
'Artamidae - A Suite Celebrating A Family Of Australian Songbirds', the
five-piece suite opening here, is such a composition and didn't do much
for me. The two-part 'Just Bluffing For Quamby' is electro-acoustic and
sounds better, although also not really that favourite received here;
the second piece here was the best. Followed by two pieces for
instruments and electronic sounds, but then 'Colluricincla Harmonica',
for fretless electric guitar and keyboards is a quite a nice little
piece, in alternative tunings, which works quite well, meandering
about. The final piece on this second is 'To Be A Pilgrim' and that's
the best piece. Also modern classical but with nice touch of ye olde
The more interesting works we find on the first disc. It opens with the
title piece, more or less, 'Atom Bomb', from 1977 but as performed in
2012, for cassette tape recorder, toy instruments and various other
devices, which takes up thirty-five minutes and moves from almost
singer-songwriter crooning to a more noise driven procedure; sometimes
mildly organic and sometimes very loud - not really Merzbow, but still.
Then there is the second longest single piece, a pipe organ duet, a
more mellow, drone like piece. Modern classical composition we find in
'Modulations' and 'Requiem (In Memoriam Ian Bonighton)', of which the
first is a random sort of play and the latter is an introspective piano
piece. The final piece on the first disc is more of an improvised piece
of music, but one that fits this disc quite well. Two discs that span
not only a lot of music in terms of the time it will take you to hear
all of this, but also in a wide spectrum of sounds. Not all works well,
at least not for me, but Pogus has found another over-looked composer.
- FdW, Vital Weekly