Justly Blissed (CD Review)

Randy Gibson
Aqua Madora
Gibson, piano and sine wave drones
Avant Media CD

Composer Randy Gibson’s 50 minute long Aqua Madora, for sine wave drones and piano tuned in just intonation, is an exquisitely lovely piece. Gibson uses his studies of tuning systems, composition, and singing with LaMonte Young and Marian Zazeela as a jumping off point – even going so far as to tuning some of the intervals (particularly seventh scale degrees) in homage to these masters of early minimalism.

As touching as this tribute is, especially at a time in which the importance of Young’s work is not nearly as widely known as it should be, Aqua Madora is not just about expressing gratitude for knowledge transmitted between teacher and student. In collaboration with Ana Baer-Carrillo and Dani Beauchamp, Gibson spent a long time refining this piece as a multimedia work containing film and dance.

One needn’t have these visual elements to enjoy the suppleness and subtleties of Aqua Madora’s music. Gibson’s play with intervals that sound “out of tune” to those accustomed to equal temperament is particularly sensitive. He allows the tangy appearances of these notes to color the drift of harmonic progressions and provide fascinating variants that add a tinge of the unexpected to scalar passages.


An aside: I wasn’t the only one in the house to be floored by the piece. Our tabby cat, Happy, comes running every time I put it on, and blisses out between the speakers. While I’m not trying to make a partisan statement in the temperament wars using inappropriate anthropomorphism, it’s worth noting that she seldom gets this excited by music in equal temperament!

Kitten on the …

Every time I go to the piano to practice, I soon sense a presence on the other side of the music desk. Daisy, our eleven month old kitten, peers over the top of the desk, waiting for me to begin playing.

As soon as the music starts, she begins attacking the dampers and strings, trying to “catch” the notes. The effect of these inside the piano exertions is noticeable. Indeed, it makes everything I play, even baroque preludes, sound far more ultramodern: Bach morphs into something akin to Henry Cowell’s “The Banshee!”

Higdon in NY Times

Jennifer Higdon is featured in today’s New York Times. Vivian Schweitzer does a nice job interviewing the 2010 Pulitzer Prizewinner, discussing her music, career path, and even composer’s anxiety.

Higdon is remarkably candid about the stresses associated with the creative process. She says,“Starting a piece is the worst … and that can stretch from one day to three weeks of agony. The cats run and hide.”

Higdon’s right – getting started is often the most challenging part of composing. And, funnily enough, the cats at our house occasionally take umbrage too. The picture below is Happy, our Tabby, sitting down on my laptop and banishing the Finale score I had in process with a flick of her tail.

Our cats are even more likely to run and hide when I’m grading!