Selected Reviews of Compositions by Zack Browning



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Fanfare 2013

Review of Dedications by PRISM Saxophone Quartet (review of Howler Back)

Walter Simmons


As John Schaefer notes in a short accompanying essay, the PRISM Quartet seems to have modeled itself after the Kronos String Quartet, with its focus on commissioning new works, its embrace of a stylistic range that extends from traditional approaches to experimental explorations of many different kinds, but, most of all, with its truly astonishing precision of technical execution, coordination of ensemble, and subtlety of expression. Dedication features music by 23 living composers, in pieces that average less than two minutes each.

But three pieces stand out as stunning, memorable, and immensely enjoyable: They are Zack Browning’s Howler Back, Jennifer Higdon’s Bop, and, perhaps most of all, Perry Goldstein’s Out of Bounds. But I must emphasize that many, if not most, of the pieces pose extraordinary difficulties in execution—e.g., playing microtonally, coordinating precise uniformity of articulation—and the quartet’s success in meeting these challenges is breathtaking.








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May 12, 2012

Review of CD Secret Pusle

By Filippo Focosi


Second test of a composer always agguerritissima (unyielding, passionate, enthusiastic)  Zack Browning for Innova, as convincing as, if not more, than the first. Then show yourself the features already intact: a constructivism explicitly, even the author says, that dissolves in the choice of materials submitted to the geometric ars combinatorial author. In fact, Browning draws liberally from rock, funk, jazz, which returns all the rhythmic energy and melodic freshness and here, for example, cites the unforgettable Moondance by Van Morrison, less known and popular subjects. All this results in a post-minimalism that does not run the risk of being repetitive, although a certain uniformity of atmosphere characterizes the 5 pieces presented, which is the strong presence of percussion. But it is still a buzzing atmosphere, which encourages others to listen to this interesting composer.




Perspectives on Sound

April 29, 2012

Review of CD Secret Pulse

By Neo Antennae


Browning, a composer accurately described as "way-cool," likes squares. So much, in fact, that the five pieces on this album are based on varying squares in the universe (the 5x5 Magic Square of Mars, the 9x9 Magic Square of the Moon, and the 3x3 Lo Shu Square). This album is perfectly varied, perfectly represented by top notch ensembles, and perfectly presented. When you hold it, it just feels right as a collection of music. The title track is like an energetic, genre-crossing ensemble mixed with a 9bit video game and a trailer for a Transformers movie. It's wonderful. 




Gapplegate  Classical-Modern Music Review

March 27, 2012

Review of CD Secret Pulse

By Grego Applegate Edwards


In our digital age we are increasingly exposed to "rapid-cut" visual editing in music videos, advertisements, television shows and movies. Perhaps music videos have most perfected the art as a constant. As the music plays, you get montages in rapid succession: singer close up, singer with other dancers, singer in another setting, and so forth in a constant flow of short-lived images and their momentary return.

I remember that the Smothers Brothers TV show in the late sixties, if I am not mistaken, in a popular segment played the song "Classical Gas" and showed an ultra-rapid series of topical photographic images with rapid cuts following rapid cuts. By then it was an established technique in avant-age cinematography. A prominent contemporary example: the beginning of the sitcom "The Big Bang" shows in a lightening fast series of cuts visuals representing the time from the Big Bang through to the present, stopping with the main characters at home in their apartment.

We are truly in the age of the rapid cut. But it is on the music video especially today where you see cuts that both unfold rapidly and also return to particular shots as the music unfolds.

As if to represent that in purely musical form, Zack Browning in his Secret Pulse (Innova 817) gives us a chamber music that partakes of minimalizt recurrence but alters the mesmerizing trance inducement of sameness by cutting rapidly from contrasting section to contrasting section. No doubt it is a difficult music to play effectively in an ensemble, since every musician must be continually aware of the need to move from short section to short section in ways that give the series of cuts an a-to-b continuity, to construct a conversational syntax smoothly delivered, as it were. They do that and very well too on the CD at hand.

In all there are five works presented on the disk, in varied instrumental combinations: the flute, viola and piano trio in "Hakka Fusion" (2009); flute, cello, violin and electronics in "Secret Pulse" (2004); a String Quartet (2008); a percussion ensemble in "Flying Tones" (2010); and a chamber ensemble in "Moon Thrust" (2009). All the music demonstrates well Zack Browning's minimal-and-cut approach. It is more a somewhat overwrought excitement that is generated in the music than a linear-logical narrative horizontality. It is a music of our time, where the internet, cell phones and any manner of other media occur with their constant cuts along with our multi-tasking tours of daily duty in work and leisure. All that would be superfluous if the music did not convince as music. It does.

The performers do an excellent job putting the sense into the disparate parts, bringing out the composer's long-form musical structure for the assemblage of recurrences and quickly contrasting new "occurrency." If Morton Feldman's later music felt like a leisurely scan of the patterns of a Persian rug, Zack Browning's music is like a rapid traversal of landscape changes in a low-flying jet.

The results make for fascinating listening.




It’s All About The Music Listen Up

KJJC 89.7 FM (Los Altos Hills, CA)

March 5, 2012

Review of CD Secret Pulse  

By Humana


Who knew squares could be so magical in compositions? Zack Browning certainly did, and in this CD he uses the 5X5 Magic Square of Mars, the 9X9 Magic Square of the Moon, and the ancient Chinese 3X3 Lo Shu Square to show how freely compositions can roam within structure. The Cadillac Moon Ensemble performs 1 and 5 (5 has elements of Van Morrison’s Moon Dance mixed in); Ensemble Unity masters 1; Jack Quartet ably executes 3; and the University of Central Florida Percussion Ensemble delights on 4 (mallets, yes!). Each group nimbly brings to life the jaunty, perky energy characteristic of this composer of “speed-demon music.” Let the classical/experimental goodness get your pulse jumping!





Winter 2012

Born to Run… (review of CD Venus Notorious) pp. 37-38

By John Wagstaff


This technique [magic squares] tends to produce compositions that are multi-sectional, full of variety, and pique the intellect and the ear. Or to put it another way, rather like a meal with many different courses, the pieces move from one textual or rhythmic “flavor” to another. This makes them highly accessible, and, if you are a person who thinks you do not like “modern music,” this CD might well change your mind.






American Record Guide

July / August 2012

Review of CD Secret Pulse


Zack Browning's compositions are infectious. Rhythm shifts in Hakka Fusion between triple and duple time and between pulsating sections driven by the violin and piano and more subdued, melodic sections using the flute. Secret Pulse adds cello and electronics to the ensemble. The jubilant flute and violin are pitted against the walking cello and the beeps and distorted tones of the electronics. Most of the digital sound contains a rough aspect like the revving of a race car. Flying Tones takes the rotating material approach to composition and applies it to a percussion ensemble. Beginning just with cymbals, the ensemble grows to keyboard percussion and timpani. Browning makes consistent use of rotating rhythms and material while using tonal material. The different timbres and contrapuntal language keep the ears fresh.




January 2012 Picks

Review of CD Secret Pulse


Zack Browning, Secret Pulse: Fancy pants modern classical pick. Imagine the sunny, unpretentious American avant-garde laced with art-damaged Atari blips. One or two more sounds and this would scan as “cool,” one or two less and it’d score a Fincher flick.

For this one, the review is already there.  The heading needs to be changed because now it is under Prismatic Spray.  New Haven Advocate should be first and then correct the rest of the heading. Review is fine.









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Sequenza 21/The Contemporary Classical Music Community

October 3, 2011

CD Review: PRISM Quartet Dedication CD on Innova Records (review of Howler Back)

By Jay Batzner


I don’t think there are enough words to describe the technical precision, the unity of sonic intent, the musicality, and the timbral facility present in the Prism Quartet’s playing. Fortunately for me, I don’t really need the words; I have this disc instead. These 23 compositions, all short and wonderfully focused, paint a wonderful aural picture of this amazing sax quartet. The slithering of Roshanne Etezady’s Inkling showcases the extreme fluidity of their sound and as soon as it is over – BAM – we are hit with the spiky and strident Howler Black by Zack Browning.




Nuvo – Indy’s Alternative Voice

January 19, 2011

Review : Davis Brooks, “Violin and Electronics” (review of Sole Injection for violin and computer-generated sounds)

By Scott Shoger


I'll give you a trippy image to illustrate Zack Browning's "Sole Injection for violin and computer-generated sounds": a bullet train, its wheels replaced by "Simon" games, which randomly and rhythmically light up and beep as the train inches along, away from the station and into (let's say) Candyland. And I'll share an inspiration: Browning reports in the liner notes that he based the piece on MC Hammer's "Adams Groove," which you may recall as the rapper's contribution to The Adams Family soundtrack. I can think of no worse place to start a song, excepting perhaps Vanilla Ice's "Ninja Rap" from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, but the song is lost in translation, providing only raw material for Browning's magic square composition techniques, which end up supplying a circular, propulsive, bright electronic background for Brooks' violin.









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San Jose Mercury News

December 31, 2010

Scheinin: Top classical CDs of 2010 (review of Funk Assault)

By Richard Scheinin


PRISM Quartet: "Breath Beneath" (New Dynamic). Classical saxophone performance has long roots in France, where the instrument has been played with salon-like refinement and fragrance. It's safe to say that the 25 year-old PRISM Quartet represents the flowering of an American school of classical saxophone performance. The group plays with the balance and precision of a fine string quartet, but the colors and textures are like nothing you've ever heard. The compositions here range from Zack Browning's "Funk Assault" to Kati Agocs's "Coloratura." The titles say a lot about this amazing band's versatility.




December 24, 2010

Review of CD Venus Notorious

by Filippo Focosi


Zack Browning's music is to all intents and purposes, post-minimalist. Repetition plays a central role in all his compositions, in which melodic and rhythmic cells, full of swing and the wall immediately, develop gradually and mechanically from an initial set. Still, Browning prevents the flow gradually take control and mechanical, dragging the hypnotic flow of the typical historical minimalism. Before that happens, in fact, the composer intervenes by cutting, overlapping and mending the musical material used, through a dense interplay of joints, mirrors and refractions. The infectious energy, clearly inspired by pop and rock that flows from all of his compositions, in which a leading role is played by the percussion, there is no risk to disperse, as is deftly channeled by the composer in inaccessible paths, branched, but that ultimately lead us to the light.





December 2010

Review of CD Venus Notorious

by Stephen Eddins


Zack Browning, associate professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, frequently mixes acoustic instruments and electronics, but this album consists entirely of acoustic works for a variety of forces ranging in size from solo piano to percussion ensemble with flute. Five of the pieces are from 2006 and 2007 and were written using "planetary magic squares, ancient Chinese magic squares and feng shui" to determine the musical structure. Extra-musical devices like these are essentially neutral, and they don't guarantee a musical outcome that delights and intrigues any more than the use of a system like serialism.  Browning, though, clearly has a knack for creating fascinating, dynamic, and often beautiful material, so that when it is run through the processes of the magic squares, the results really are wonderfully delightful and intriguing. The music is for the most part hyperkinetic, quirkily hurtling forward, with startling, unpredictable juxtapositions whose oddness is almost guaranteed to make the listener smile. Browning's tonality is related to the minimalism of a composer like Steve Reich, and his recycling of small cells also gives his music a link to minimalism, but the resemblance stops there, because where in minimalism change is slow and incremental, in his music change is almost incessant, with new musical ideas breaking in with breathless unpredictability. Each of the pieces is fully successful, but Venus Notorious, scored for the eccentric ensemble of two pianos, xylophone, and drum set, is particularly striking because of the attractiveness of its largely tonal melodic material, its fun, fragmented rhythms, and its timbral variety. The two-movement Thunder Roll from 1975 has been one of Browning's most frequently performed pieces and it's not hard to see why. Scored for piano, two percussionists, and timpani, each movement is a slowly unfolding, colorful, and atmospheric evocation of a storm. The music receives exemplary performances from a wide variety of instrumentalists, mostly faculty members at leading music schools. The sound is clean and exceptionally crisp, just what the music requires.




Audiophile Audition

October 7, 2010

Review of  CD Venus Notorious  (Two CDs featuring percussion, lots of percussion: one offers real listening pleasure, one not so much)

By Lee Passarella

It may not be hi-res, but Venus Notorious will certainly put your system to the test. It’s stereo to the max, and that bass drum in Profit Beater and Thunder Roll shook everything in my listening room that wasn’t nailed down. As a matter of fact, the two Thunder Roll pieces are my favorite earfuls on this disc. Written in 1975, more than thirty years before the other works on the program, they represent a different aesthetic entirely, one that seems influenced by the driving rhythms and off-rhythms of Bartók and his groupies. Zack Browning, emeritus professor of music at the University of Illinois, would probably say these pieces represent a time in his career before he found his true musical voice. That voice—conveyed in pieces like Venus Notorious—is, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “way-cool in attitude.” Call me way-uncool, but to me they don’t have a hell of a lot to say.

Browning explains that “Since 1995, I have written several works that belong to an original series of experimental music compositions that incorporate planetary magic squares, ancient Chinese magic squares and feng shui as compositional models. A magic square consists of a series of numbers arranged so that the sum of each row, column, and diagonal is the same amount. Routes through the square are mapped onto a musical structure that uses the properties of the square as a compositional model.”

Sounds profound, doesn’t it? But the music itself sounds like a Steve Reich record stuck on a single three- or four-note riff that keeps repeating and repeating ad infinitum (or at least for ten or fifteen minutes, which is about as long as Browning’s pieces last). Some of it sounds like a Jacques Louissier Trio record stuck on a single three- or four-note riff that keeps. . . . Well, you get the idea. If, as The Irish Times states, Zack Browning brings “together the procedures of high musical art with the taste of popular culture,” then I guess I don’t know high musical art from a Chinese magic square. And don’t want to. [I once got a record store to take back an early Philip Glass LP, saying it stuck...It didn’t...Ed.]




Computer Music Journal

Volume 34, Number 3, Fall 2010

Review of CD Cigar Smoke by Esther Lamneck (review of Crack Hammer)

By Pauline Minevich Regina


Esther Lamneck: Cigar Smoke. Compact disc, 2007, innova Recordings 673;

The final work on the CD is Crack Hammer (2004) by Zack Browning. Browning explains that the piece is one of a series in which he explores the application of magic squares to musical structure. A magic square is a series of numbers arranged in a square, so that the sum of each row, column and diagonal is the same. In Von Nettesheims’s De Occulta Philosophia (1531), seven magic squares are associated with the seven bodies of the Ptolemaic universe (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon). Mr. Browning used the magic square of Mars to structure this piece. Each number’s unique position in the square is mirrored in the score by a specific style, rhythm, density, timbre, and orchestration. The resulting work is, perhaps surprisingly, jazzy, with interesting rhythmic patterns, and a sense of playfulness.




All Music Guide

August 31, 2010

Review of CD Venus Notorious

By François Couture


Wow, a very percussive contemporary music record - with or without percussion! Browning, an American composer, delivers here five recent works (2006/2007) plus one dating back to 1975. His music is complex, rhythm-centric, and driving. It’s easy to forget that it is mostly based on magic squares. I must mention “Profit Beater” (12 minutes) for flute and percussion, featuring the McCormick Percussion Ensemble (who recently released a CD on one of Parma’s sub-labels), and “Venus Notorious” (15 minutes) for two pianos, xylophone, and drum kit. This music is complex though not overdone, with a je-ne-sais-quoi that makes it very accessible. Highly recommended, especially to RIO fans.




San Francisco Chronicle

August 29, 2010

Review:  CD review of Venus Notorious by Zack Browning

Author: Joshua Kosman


The seven chamber works by composer Zack Browning on this disc are built around some kind of constructive process involving magic squares, feng shui and the movement of the planets. The details hardly matter, and in fact any halfway savvy listener will be able to detect the presence of a system just from the repetitions and variations that infuse the music. What counts, rather, is the surface play of the music, which is charming, ebullient, infectiously bright and also somewhat limited in scope. Browning's music is densely but unpredictably patterned, built around tiny rhythmic and melodic cells that repeat, join, scatter and stutter according to whatever rules are in place behind the scenes, and because Browning's rhythmic palette is so bouncy and exuberant - some of the music sounds like dance tracks for androids with varying numbers of feet - it has a seductive sort of grace. But there's also a digital feel to the music that is underscored by the predominance of piano and percussion; a little more textural variety and even sensuality would have been welcome.




Step Tempest

May 4, 2010

Review of CD Breath Beneath by PRISM Saxophone Quartet (review of Funk Assault)

Richard B. Kamins


Breath Beneath (New Dynamic Records) - This release, from the label of Indiana University Southeast, finds the Quartet playing new music by North American composers.  These pieces range from the James Brown-meets-the World Saxophone Quartet excitement of Zack Browning's "Funk Assault" to the lamentations of Roshanne Etezady's "Keen" to the constant hum and whisper of the title track, written by Kristin Kuster.




The New York Times

March 4, 2010

Review: At Ease in T-Shirts or Suits, and With the Medieval or Modern (review of JACK Quartet concert at Merkin Hall, NYC on 03/03/10)

Author: Anthony Tommasini


Zack Browning’s 2008 String Quartet provided just what was needed to end the program: a propulsive, giddy, rocking piece, a rush of cyclic riffs and fractured meters. Was it just the context the JACK Quartet provided, or did the strange, cchorale-like harmonies in the piece recall Machaut?




The Birmingham News

March 12, 2010

Review: Karen Bentley Pollick: Virtuosity of the avant garde (review of concert Alternating Currents by Karen Bentley Pollick, violin  at the Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL on 03/11/10)

Author: Michael Huebner


Zack Browning used highly-charged sound masses in broad swashes to bring "Sole Injection" to an intense conclusion.




The Big City

February 26, 2010

Four Brothers: Review of CD Breath Beneath by PRISM Saxophone Quartet (review of Funk Assault)

By Gandalfe


Zack Browning’s Funk Assault is revealed by the composer to have been structured around a Magic Square, but the ears don’t need to know that to enjoy the sharp attacks of the short, driving phrases and the expansive intervals. It’s a nice balance of the intellectual and the hip.





New Haven Advocate

Prismatic Spray (Review of FunkAssault on CD Breath Beneath by PRISM Saxophone Quartet)  

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Daniel Stephen Johnson


There is an otherwise great track here, Zack Browning's FUNK ASSAULT, that highlights the group's one weakness—I kept wishing they could attack each note with more bite. It could have been so much funkier, and more assaultive, if they were as great at suddenly stabbing out of nowhere as they are at gradually fading in and out of nothing. Which, I don't think I mentioned, they do incredibly well.








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Leonardo On-Line (Leonardo Music Journal)

Review of CD Cigar Smoke by Esther Lamneck (Review of Crack Hammer)

September 2008

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher

Saginaw Valley State University, Michigan


Beyond its contemporary gritty title, "Crack Hammer" makes use of Ptolemaic magic squares in its composition, those symmetrical mathematical devices Browning found in Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa Von Nettersheim's 1531 book De Occulta Philosophica. In our own century, with the addition of Esther Lamneck's subtle clarinet, they add up to satisfying electro-acoustic music.









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Music of Our Time

August 29, 2007

Review: Esther Lamneck CD Review

Author: Dary John Mizelle


Zack Browning’s Crack Hammer for clarinet and computer-generated sounds provides a welcome sense of fun and humor in an otherwise very serious CD. The composer employs repetitive, additive rhythms with an unpredictable sense of humor. The form and rhythm of this piece were based on a magic square. Ms. Lamneck’s impeccable sense of timing makes the performance very exhilarating




All Music

July 2007

Review: Funktasia: Music by Zack Browning and Sever Tipei

Author: James Manheim


The title of the CD “Funktasia” is more applicable to the music of Zack Browning, which mixes select references to the language of popular music with structures derived from abstruse formal devices like magic squares. His zippy music is made up of short, punchy blasts that are accented by sharp but subtle contrasts of texture between instruments, often between an electronic and an acoustic sound. In the opening Pure Sweat, for example, a bass clarinet veers off from buzzy electronic sounds. The use of the electric guitar in Coming Up Sevens (1987) is notable; it is one of a fairly small group of modern compositions that uses instruments from the popular world but divorces them from its stylistic references — and plays with the results in interesting ways.



Georgia Straight

February 22, 2007

Review:  Standing Wave Concert in Vancouver

Author: Alex Varty


The program featured attractive works from Horn by Island guitarist Tony Wilson and English iconoclast Thomas Ades, but the ensemble stared down bigger challenges in Zack Browning's Impact Addiction and Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez’s Luciernagas.  The former is mathematical and exceedingly complex.  Browning also asks the musicians to perform at a hyperspeed pace, which renders that complexity difficult to grasp on first hearing.








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San Antonio Express-News

September 17, 2006

Review: Concerts highlight composers, innovations



Zack Browning's "Network Slammer," which uses the numerical magic square as a

compositional model, showed that process-oriented music, a frequently dour obsession

of the 1970s, can be great fun.  The live flutist (Chih-hsien Chien) spun intricate melodic

lines against a banging computer part that alternated between a cockeyed robotic dance

and more rhythmically supple and energetic material. The four-channel electronic sounds

brought to mind the beloved Hammond B3, and they filled the space richly.








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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

February 17, 2005

Review: New music rises from 'Red Clay'
Author: Pierre Ruhe - Staff


With a growing national reputation, Browning was heard locally a year ago, when New York's Bang on a Can ensemble, on tour, played some of his speed-demon music. Tuesday's nine-minute premiere, "Secret Pulse," starts with taped sounds of blurry, stroboscopic electronica, augmented by live flute, cello and violin. It's way-cool in attitude, racing at top velocity, pausing only occasionally for a lyrical cello melody or pointillistic violin fragment. There's anxiety in its fast-faster-faster sensory overload, which stirred feelings of helplessness. It felt like a bleak commentary on our depersonalized, electro-computer society, where an individual's ideas are swept aside by the information-age tsunami. And it was kinda fun.




The Computer Music Journal

Volume 29 Issue 4

Review: 14th Florida Electroacoustic Music Festival 2005


Secret Pulse by Zack Browning had the drive I’ve always loved from parts of the Béla Bartók quartets. They make music that crests like a wave. Then, clarinetist Esther Lamneck returned to perform Zack Browning's Crack Hammer, a crackerjack combo of computer and clarinetist: it was a fight to the finish, both contestants making me cheer!




St. Petersburg Times

April 2, 2005

Review: Bonk Festival opens with mild-mannered note

Author: John Fleming, Times Peforming art Critic


And give Zack Browning's propulsive Flaming Walls the prize for best inspiration, with the "Magic Square of Mars" providing its framework, according to a program note. Holt laid down expert support for the exciting, jagged rhythms.





June/July 2004

Review:  Review of CD “Inner Visions” Sherban Lupu, violin

Author: Robert Carl


Zack Browning's Double Shot (2000) is an engaging moto perpetuo based, according to the composer, on material derived from magic squares. There's no way of knowing how this source relates specifically to the music, but it's just as well, because the energy and momentum of the piece are infectious on their own and, if nothing else, it's obvious the source gives a level of cohesion to the product.








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The Berkshire Eagle

July 20, 2004. Copyright

Review: Bang On A Can All-Stars

Author: Seth Rogovoy


The concert kicked off with composer Zack Browning’s “Back Speed Double Circuit,” which according to the program notes is a mathematics-based piece that has something to do with magic squares and the planet Mars. Indeed, at times it sounded like an extraterrestrial “Rhapsody in Blue,” its proportions bent or altered as if by a powerful gravitational or magnetic force. The musicians played in response to computer-generated sounds that at times evoked a harpsichord, and mostly in stop-start fashion. With a clear, rhythmic pulse emerging, the overall piece began to take shape and an overriding architecture emerged wherein the seemingly jagged, unrelated bursts of clarinet, drums, bass, piano and guitar revealed a greater, almost harmonious relationship.




Gaudeaumus week

September 2004

Review: Musical Pointers

Authors: Peter Grahame Woolf andf Alexa Woolf


……….. - that in contrast to Zack Browning's absorbingly entertaining Network Slammer for flute (Susan Doyle) and tape. Zack's piece is direct and clear on first acquaintance, but one to hear again and again for the sheer pleasure of familiarity; based on The Magic Square of Venus (Agrippa), but nothing like Maxwell Davies - an electroacoustic work to wake up and delight the audience for any type of concert.








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Arts Ireland

October 2003, Issue No. 68
Review: The Crash Ensemble

Author: Miriam Stewart
Although some of Dennehy's own pieces written for the Ensemble were interesting, the
real highlights of this show were the American pieces, composed by Philip Glass and Zack Browning among others; pieces whose sparse technical tricks were given full, controlled rein. A feast for the ears and mind. More performances please!




American Record Guide

November/December 2002

Review: The Newest Music (Review of CD Banjaxed)

Author: Payton MacDonald


When not composing music Zack Browning teaches at the University of Illinois.  Several of the cuts on Banjaxed use the magic square as a structural device.  The magic square is a grid of numbers that all add up to the same sum, whether one adds the rows, the columns, or the diagonal lines.  You can’t hear this, of course, but I suppose it helped Browning organize his musical thoughts.  All of the tracks are electro-acoustic.  The acoustic instruments include trumpet, violin, alto saxophone, flute, and mixed ensemble.  Browning combines pop and classical ideas.  I complained in the last issue that this rarely works, but Browning seems to have pulled it off.  Each piece has the thematic consistency of a pop tune.  They are all instantly identifiable, with the same production polish and narrow dynamic range as most pop records. Browning blends all of this with the creative and structural sophistication of classical music.  One of the best pieces is the first one, Breakpoint Screamer.  It is an apt title for this edgy, but cool work.  The musicians breathe fire like a dragon, singeing but never burning.  I also enjoyed the title track, which might be the aural equivalent of the pinball machine.  Imagine sassy, brilliant bumpers with each slam of the ball sending a glitter of lights and mechanical twitters through your chest.  Electro-acoustic aficionados should definitely check this out.




American Music Center


Review: Banjaxed CD, Capstone Records 8697


Browning's hyperactive, mathematical compositions unite live performance with edgy electronics (primarily tape parts), incorporating truncated, punchy rhythms that do not allow rest. Abrupt changes in sonority often break down into dialogues between the live musicians and the tape parts and often dissolve into a very ordered cacophony. Occasionally, Browning teases us with a traditional melody line but no sooner do you get used to it and he's off and running with a new idea.








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The Computer Music Journal

Volume 24 No. 4, Composition and Performance – Winter 2000

Review: Zack Browning and Eun-Bae Kim: Diversity in Music

Author: Nico Schuler


Breakpoint Screamer by the University of Illinois professor of composition and music theory, Zack Browning, was commissioned by the International Trumpet Guild (ITG) for performance at the 1994 ITG conference at the University of Illinois. Several layers of pulse-oriented patterns bring trumpets and tape together in a unique and fresh way, creating an energy-carrying dramaturgy that culminates towards the end of the 7-minute piece. Each pattern, with a distinct rhythmic and melodic appearance, may change its global position so that not only different patterns get together at different times in the composition, but also with a different local position to each other. Thus, different polyrhythms are constantly created. As the listener learns from the CD cover, the tape used in this piece was produced with GACSS (Genetic Algorithms in Composition and Sound Synthesis), a software package developed by the Illinois composer, artist, and multi-media specialist Benjamin Grosser. With GACSS, sound synthesis and compositional parameters are controlled by genetic algorithms. The timbres generated by the program are classified with regard to their waveform, called breakpoints. Breakpoints specifically represent the number of peaks and the distance between those peaks. The composition Breakpoint Screamer represents an excellent result of this concept, especially considering the combination of instrumental timbres with computer-generated ones and the "dialogue" between trumpets and tape. But most of all, the large-scale concept works: the piece is fascinating up to the last second. That the performance requires five trumpet players instead of two (or three) for such a light texture is another question, but the final, audible result is what counts.








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The Irish Times

September 16, 1998

Review: The Crash Ensemble Project @ The Mint

Author: Michael Dervan


Crash’s advocacy of the racy energy of Illinois-based Zack Browning continued with a repeat of Impact Addiction for violin, keyboard, drum kit and tape, and the premiere of Network Slammer for flute and tape. Unlike most composers working within the electroacoustic field, Browning uses computer synthesis to mimic a super-charged mechanical or gan with an almost old-fashioned artificiality of timbre, and he produces music which conveys a heady, almost giggly exhilaration.




The Irish Times

March 17, 1998

Review: Looking after the new, the second UCC Festival of Contemporary Music

Author: Michael Dervan


The festival featured three visiting composers, 45 year-old Zack Browning was represented by Impact Addiction and Sole Injection, two works for live performers and tape, both highly energized pieces which represent the musicians, guided by click tracks, almost as pseudo-electronic puppets, and bringing together the procedures of high musical art with the taste of popular culture.  These were the most impressive performances in the Crash Ensemble’s full evening concert.








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Bang On ACan Marathon

Alice Tully Hall, NYC (June 2, 1996)

June 11, 1996

Review of Breakpoint Screamer

By KennethGoldsmith   


Zack Browning "Breakpoint Screamer" Performed by Ensemble Screamer. This could have been the sleeper of the day--it certainly ranked amongst my faves. 5 trumpets and electronics belting out very tight horn charts. As the electronics got faster, the players responded (or maybe it was the other way around) until things got so sonically overworked that they were about to explode. Very BOAC fare, that succeeds in just the way that BOAC aspires to: rhythm, volume, intensity and rock and roll. This one left our heads spinning and our ears dazzled.





The New York Times

June 4, 1996

Review: Impish Noisemakers Revel In Sounds of the Century

Author: Anthony Tommasini


There were many engaging and fresh sounds. Zack Browning's "Breakpoint Screamer" for five trumpets and computer-generated tape made a lot of wonderfully shimmering noise, but nothing really happened.