On Sunday night at Constellation, celebrated New York-based new-music group Mivos Quartet will premiere Chain Reactions/Five Events by composer and electronic musician Sam Pluta, who moved to Chicago a little over a year ago to become an assistant professor of music at the University of Chicago. The concert doubles as a release event for Broken Symmetries (Carrier), Pluta’s second album devoted to his own compositions. You might expect Pluta to promote the show by foregrounding the significance of Chain Reactions, which brings together his practices as a composer, improviser, and performer—or to point out that it appears on Broken Symmetries, alongside three more electroacoustic works (performers on the album include Mivos, Wet Ink Ensemble, violinist Josh Modney, and flutist Anne La Berge). But what you get in the promo video that Pluta made for the concert is shot after shot of him shattering CD copies of Broken Symmetries with two sets of pliers.
It turns out that Pluta, one of the proprietors of Carrier Records, is fed up with compact discs.
“CDs are really dumb at this point. They are expensive to produce and nobody wants them,” he says. “I’ve literally lost thousands of dollars making them, and the only place I can even play them is my car. Plus digital downloads essentially sound better at this point. I know this is debatable, but I think a 24-bit MP3 and certainly a FLAC sound better than a 16-bit CD. But I also know that people like to have a physical thing. This is the main thing driving the LP renaissance, and certainly the thing driving cassettes.
“So I have made the ‘record’ available in two physical forms, both of which come with a download code. One is a little custom-stenciled baggie of CD parts. The other is a limited-edition, numbered piece of wood that is laser cut to look like a CD. At the Mivos concert, the first 25 people who come will get a custom-stenciled baggie, everyone will get a download, and the laser-cut wood albums will be available for purchase.”
Mivos commissioned Chain Reactions in 2013, but Pluta has used that title and some of the same underlying musical concepts before—the current piece applies lessons he learned at a workshop led by Pauline Oliveros in 2002, and even adapts some material he came up with back then.
“Pauline’s music does something very little music does,” Pluta says. “She sets up these systems that prioritize listening over everything else. If you listen deeply and follow the algorithms provided, the music can be amazing. When I wrote this new piece for Mivos, I wanted to have a kind of improvised feel to part of the piece, with this intense rhythmic counterpoint that is basically impossible to notate, so I reconnected with this material. The first part of the piece is in this alternate notation system where all of the players are listening and reacting to one another. A further layer of interactive electronics amplifies the whole system. The second part of the piece is completely traditionally notated.”
Chain Reactions is a dynamic piece, shifting among cells of fiery but contained interaction, precisely deployed blocks of acoustic sound, and passages of stuttering electronics. Pluta will join Mivos Quartet to perform it on Sunday night, when it will conclude a program that also includes John Liberatore’s A Tree-Sprout, a Nameless Weed (2016), Matthew Ricketts’s In Partial View (2015), and Sofia Gubaidulina’s String Quartet no. 4 (1993).