Ear Gardens

1. Johnny Reinhard COSMIC RAYS Tom Chiu and Corinne Stillwell, violins
Tanya Halko, viola
Dave Eggar, cello

John Schneider and Wim Hoogewerf,
Just-fretted guitars
Anastasia Solberg, viola
Rebecca Pechefsky, harpsichord
Skip La Plante, kanon
Steven Antonelli, guitar pulse

3. polymelody
4. harmonic stasis
Peter Zummo, trombone
Johnny Reinhard, theremin

5. John Cage TEN
Andrew Bolotowsky, flute
Ron Kozak, oboe
Chris Soder, Bb clarinet
Chris Washburne, trombone
Joshua Pierce, piano
Annemarie Wiesner and Gabriela Klassen,
Martha Mooke, viola
Jodi Beder, cello
Skip La Plante, percussion

American Festival of Microtonal Music

Pitch Records

This is an interesting album of microtonal music, and contains the first recording I know of of In C using a microtonal tuning. In this case, the tuning was provided by Terry Riley himself as a result of a 1988 commission from the American Festival of Microtonal Music. The Riley is a particularly noteworthy and unique performance, consisting entirely of plucked instruments, a collection that includes harpsichord and a kanon (also known as an Armenian zither) built by the performer Skip La Plante. The duration of the performance is also shorter than any I’ve heard before and uses a smaller ensemble. These factors along with the lack of instruments that can sustain notes translates into a very different sort of performance from what is more commonly experienced, and that’s actually a good thing. Unlike most other performances I know of In C, and I have something like five versions on my iPod, there are sections here and there where there are only a few notes with silence between them rather than the usual motoric underlying patterns. These sections sound more in keeping with the work’s heritage from La Monte Young, at least to my ears. While microtonal, it’s not that blatant; the tuning provides more of a subtle underlying richness to the performance. I really like this version, and also appreciated finding the name of an old friend among the performers when I looked at the liner notes.

The Cage is another in his set of “number pieces,” which represent some of Cage’s best music, period. Written for 10 performers, it uses an 84-tone equal temperament scale. The performance appears to be first rate, in that there is a musicality to the work that isn’t always there in some performances of late Cage. I think this performance is up there with the OgreOgress series of Cage’s number pieces, and perhaps the Arditti Quartet’s performance of Four.

Johnny Reinhard, who directs the AFMM and is also known as having done the definitive realization of the Ives Universe Symphony. He is also a composer in his own right, and his work Cosmic Rays was written for the FLUX Quartet (of FSQ2 fame) and is a mashup of improv, serialization, polymicrotonality and the Fantastic Four to boot (somehow the comic adventures were used to characterize pitches…it was one of my favorite comic books growing up, so I’m fine with it, even if I don’t exactly understand what he did). In other words, there is a lot of diversity to the music, and while it wasn’t exactly my taste, I could respect it nonetheless and find something to like in it.

While I’m not a fan in general of Philip Corner’s music, his (two) Microtonal Melodies for trombone and theremin had some great moments, especially the second piece that is more static and drone-like. It’s an interesting piece to listen to coming off of the classic Riley work, and is expertly performed by Peter Zummo on trombone and Johnny Reinhard on Moog Theremin. Like much of Corner’s music, this is a graphic score with almost poetry-like instructions.

All in all, this is a very nice album, and I’m hoping more albums from the AFMM will be forthcoming in the future.

3 Responses to “Microtonal Music from Johnny Reinhard, Terry Riley, Philip Corner, John Cage”
  1. Bill says:

    Do you have any more information about the just intonation used on In C?
    And any links to where this CD is available?
    I agree about Cage’s number works, great stuff.

  2. David Toub says:

    I don’t have details on the tuning for the Riley—sorry. As far as availability, just google it. There are several places to get this.

  3. I was at the original concert and they told me this version is in seven limit Just Intonation.

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