The Four Seasons
The challenge—and seduction—of sampling is to make what someone else has recorded yours. Most sampling hews too closely to the verb: Sampling, partaking of, nibbling, and, alas, delving no further than to extract a loop for the familiar temporal grid which has dominated music for over a half century. Noah Creshevsky samples, yet instead of just looping he sculpts tiny, poetic fragments into a startling, often luscious palette of timbres and long-limbed melodies; a drum flam, a rising string orchestra scale, and three snippets of bird-like vocal vibratos can collide and caress at once.
Creshevsky’s palette has been multifariously open for decades, heard initially in hard-to-find split LPs released by Opus One in the 1970s and 80s—many of which are collected on the essential compilation disc The Tape Music of Noah Creshevsky 1971-1992 (EM Records, 2004)—to recent albums such as Rounded with a Sleep (Pogus, 2011), The Twilight of the Gods (Tzadik, 2010), and To Know and Not To Know (Tzadik, 2007).
Genres, instruments, and melodies which otherwise might never have cohabited do so freely and in unexpected, delicious ways throughout Creshevsky’s work. On “Cantiga” (1992), strict row-like choral lines, which if heard separately might have won pleased nods from astringent serialists like Donald Martino and Roger Sessions, interweave with flutes and pungently nasal, synthetic horns in a courtly dance, as if Stravinsky’s Agon had actually originated as electronic music. In “Canto di Malavita” from Hyperrealism (Mutable Music, 2003), a churning sitar-laden melody slithers through snare drum and cymbal hits, pausing at 20″ for a cooing female voice, which then reappears at the one minute mark and comes to a thrilling split-second stop at 1’03″. The palette blooms thereafter into frenetically clipped and cut piano scales, with what may be the closing cadence of Stravinsky’s “Madrid” (from the Four Etudes for Orchestra), and string pizzicati, all sealed by a quiet closing bell. Creshevsky makes impossible music possible.
Unlike mash-ups or the plunderphonics of John Oswald, Creshevsky’s samples flow and bound across genres too quickly for any firm identification. Instead, Creshevsky aims for an inclusive synthesis, a hard-won composition of ostensibly disparate musics. In the liner notes for Who (Centaur, 2000) he writes “Allusions to Middle Eastern, Asian, and Western sacred, secular, popular, and classical instrumental and vocal music seek to produce hypothetical performers of indeterminate identity—simultaneously male and female.”
Creshevsky’s sampling is personal, too; he fashions his hypothetical, hyperreal performers from a roster of collaborators which ranges freely across music scenes and genres from trombonist Monique Buzzarté, jazz bassist Lonnie Plaxico, and Ben Holmes (trumpeter of Slavic Soul Party) to Seattle composer and singer Amy Denio, sound-text shamans Chris Mann and Tomomi Adachi, and the buoyant klezmer outfit, The Klez Dispensers.
In The Four Seasons (2013) Creshevsky puts his own work to the knife, boldly reinventing his own sonic world. Neither a wistful retrospective nor a greatest hits medley, surprising contextual and formal relationships in the composer’s music emerge: The middle section of “Coup d’Etat” (1993-1994) from Auxesis (Centaur, 1995) reappears in “Winter,” its super-compressed voices and careening woodwinds building towards the gamboling, youthful “Spring” where the The Klez Dispensers, heard at the close of “Götterdämmerung” (2009) on the Tzadik album The Twilight of the Gods, shimmy towards a powerful cadential pitch-transposition. Followed soon thereafter by the introduction to “Red Carpet” (2007), ribboned arpeggios of strings and horns soar skywards at different tempi towards the high, keening bassoon note of Le Sacre du Printemps—a brief but elegant connection to a Spring which started a musical earthquake a century ago in 1913.
Old and new rub against one another in dazzling fashion throughout The Four Seasons. Keep your ears open for the blizzard of sul pontincello, spiccato, and sul tasto violin lines prancing in the middle of “Spring” as well as for the tender and hitherto improbable trio between ironic mutterings (“I thought there was another word for it”) by Chris Mann and dual violins (played by either or both Mari Kimura and Amy Zakar) in “Interlude 1.” The Four Seasons embodies a visionary, multitasking polyphony where hitherto impossible performers emerge and old works become recontextualized while distances of gender, genre, and culture converge.
“A man isn’t made of one image” declared Nadia Boulanger, “but a multitude. It is a composition of images that make up the man.” Unlike just about every recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Creshevsky’s Seasons conclude tellingly with “Spring,” an apt aura of rebirth. Most composers find a style and continue, growing incrementally; yet like Stravinsky—Boulanger’s idol—Creshevsky, a student of Boulanger and Berio, has, from his own multitude of sonic images, found a new way to make his music sing and dance magnificently anew.