The Art Of Noise
Mix equal parts delicacy, satire, abstraction, and imagery; add a flutist whose performance is as charismatic as it is virtuosic and versatile. This is the recipe for Meerenai Shim’s second album, “The Art Of Noise” – five courses of musical repast highlighting Ms. Shim’s personality even more than it does her ability. To be simple, the disc, accidentally or not, validates Ms. Shim’s self-appointed title as, “the ultimate indie music curator and performer.” Credit for this extends both to the truly unique composers and compositions she collected for the album as well as her in-studio collaborators (percussionist Christopher G. Jones, pianist Lori Lack, and cellist Paul Rhodes), all of whom deliver splendid contributions to the recording.
“The Art Of Noise” begins its journey with Daniel Felsenfeld’s brooding To Committee: A Parody Of Self, for flute, piano and cello. As Mr. Felsenfeld explains in the CD’s liner notes, the work is a deliberately maudlin and mocking lament dedicated to the committee-industrial complex he finds encumbering to himself and American composers in general. To Committee’s first movement opens with bitingly energetic, if not strained, material, which serves “The Art Of Noise” well by grabbing the listener’s attention. Over the next two movements, this nervous musical energy compellingly alternates with more lyrical passages, acting as a gentle introduction to the enormous range of musical expression present in the album’s remaining contents.
Janice Misurell-Mitchell’s title track, The Art of Noise, for flute/voice and percussion, is next on the album and contrasts strongly to the more lyrical and melodic characteristics of Felsenfeld’s To Committee. As the instrumentation for Ms. Misurell-Mithell’s piece suggests, the work calls for Ms. Shim to reach outside her instrument’s conventions. The heart of The Art of Noise is in fluid gulf of timbre that lies between Ms. Shim’s flute and the percussion instruments of her A/B Duo comrade Chris Jones. Indeed, the piece is more about the similarity of sounds the two performers and produce than the distinctions. The flute and percussion’s metallic and earthen characters (the latter achieved in the flute through Ms. Shim’s fantastic singing/playing) complement and are cast in relief of each other through the composer’s crisp, adroit phrases.
Jay C. Batzner’s Mercurial, for flute and electronics, is the next piece on “The Art Of Noise”. Essentially, Mr. Batzner’s piece contains two kinds of material: ambient synthesized and processed sound paired with yearning flute melodies and upbeat, granular rhythms (which, at one point, made me think of a beat-boxing robot), once more appropriately paired with more facile flute lines. To me, Mercurial stood out as a pivot in the album’s narrative – its intimate moments drew me back to To Committee, while its abstract material and the expertise of its electronic and acoustic colors seemed reminiscent of The Art of Noise. Most importantly, the brief passages of straightforward, repeating rhythms in the electronics foreshadow perfectly the next piece on the disc.
Matthew Joseph Payne’s flight of the bleeper bird for flute and Gameboy sounds like the musical lovechild of Tristan Perich, Kraftwerk and Megaman kidnapped a flute to abet its manic, low-bit, synthesized mayhem. I applaud Mr. Payne for appropriating so iconic a found object and using music to both capture and redefine its basic cultural essence. Ms. Shim’s flute is joyfully along for the ride through the work’s sugar-pop, kaleidoscopic dances and abstract, white noise reflections. In terms of the whole of “The Art of Noise”, flight of the bleeper bird is an exquisitely crude climax, the unabashed culmination of the Ms. Shim’s transformation as a performer from the relatively comfortable trappings of To Committee to the extended techniques of The Art of Noise and, at last, the electro-acoustic splendor of Mercurial. At least for me, it was impossible to foresee that this trajectory would lead to so tremendous a fusion of Ms. Shim’s artful musicianship and the repurposed vernacular of Mr. Payne’s musical material and machinery.
If you listen to “The Art Of Noise” from beginning to end, I think you will agree that David E. Farrell’s moonwave is a perfect conclusion for the album. Again we see Ms. Shim’s skill as a musical curator shine, because after experiencing the accumulating sonic density of the preceding works, my ears and mind were desperate to take in a gentle flute solo like moonwave. Works like Mr. Farrell’s are many in the flute repertory, but, at least for me, they never get old. Perhaps this is because, like the piano or cello, the flute, when in the hands of a truly gifted artist, is a treasure to hear by itself. As I have already suggested, moonwave is soft and unassuming, but not restrained; basically, the piece sounds content, which echoes the fulfillment anyone will enjoy after they listen to this album.