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Listening Party

Susan Alcorn: Touch This Moment

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Susan Alcorn

Touch This Moment

Uma Sounds

An organ-like hum begins to fluctuate in timbre and intensity, snowballing into a buzzing morass. Just more than a minute and a half into this anxious squall it fades to near silence, before a gentler sound begins. It’s less restless and more specific, with a faint flesh-on-metal friction vibration cutting through the background before another gentle fade to silence. This rest is ruptured by a quick succession of plaintive notes, some of which are gently bent into pinched tones—which briskly fade to an aural black that gets disturbed by a ghost of a melodic line. Through gentle volume controls, this melody blooms into a swirling sound. And through the entire run of this 6-minute-and-43-second piece of music, it starts and stops at regular intervals, picking up and varying motifs and textures, sounds and moods, until its composer/performer, pedal-steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, has delivered a stark musical homage to the abstract expressionist name checked in its title: “Agnes Martin/Specchio Nero.”

A non-idiomatic painter may be the best analog to Alcorn’s supple musical ideas. Her new, self-released Touch This Moment—her fifth solo outing—showcases a performer that continues to display a virtuosic command of her instrument’s possibilities. Bluesy lines become Messiaen-like intensity in “Gilmor Blue,” while she provides her own piano-like rhythmic accompaniment to a melodic line in “Hovenweep.”

What’s not so much new—as an improv ensemble member, Alcorn proves again and again that few ideas escape her sensitive ear—as different from her compositional pen is Touch’s tenderness. While she does wander down a few of the murky paths she trod on 2007’s And I Await the Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar, Alcorn offers a much broader palette here, as capable of something pretty (“Postlude”) as something pastoral (“Hovenweep”). And with the 23-minute lead-off “Little Bird, We Can Fly,” Alcorn delivers something bordering the euphoric, moving from the intimate to the sweeping with the scope and ambition of a symphonic work—all powered by an orchestra of one.

Susan Alcorn plays the Fifth Dimension Sept. 10 with Heresy of the Free Spirit, DC4, and Andy Hayleck and Paul Neidhardt. For more information visit

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