Melodies Alone Can Proudly Carry Their Own Death
The Chamber Music of Gene Pritsker
Composers Concordance Records
Composers Concordance Records has released a new album titled Melodies Alone Can Proudly Carry Their Own Death – The Chamber Music of Gene Pritsker. A prolific composer who works over a wide spectrum of styles, this album neatly captures Pritsker’s restlessly eclectic sensibilities with material derived from contemporary trends, from popular music and from the early 20th century. The eleven tracks on this CD are a generous assortment of the diverse and various, performed with precision and sensitivity by a talented collection of musicians, including Pritsker himself.
Track 9, She’s So Chaconne is a good example of just how inventive Pritsker can be. A piece for solo violin – masterfully played by Daniele Colombo – She’s So Chaconne is at times, sad and lonely, spirited and dramatic or quietly remote. A range of complex emotions and currents swirl about, pouring out from the violin, yet turning on a dime, even as a quote from a Beatles tune is heard. Essence, on track 6, also contains the familiar, this time in the form of a somewhat conventional piano line with strong rhythms in the drums. Moments of familiarity happen just often enough to keep the listener anchored, but these become a departure point for the variations that wander away from the ordinary. Some fine piano playing by Derin Öge and the precise drumming of Cesare Papetti combine on this track for a tight ensemble.
Throughout this album Pritsker expertly surfs the boundary between complex and popular music. Galileo Starry Messanger, track 8, opens with a nice, upbeat melody and a gently swinging feel. The piano, clarinet and flute carry this cleanly, but the popular feel becomes a launching pad for excursions into more convoluted and expressive stretches. Midway through, Galileo Starry Messanger slows and becomes much more solemn and expansive. Sustained tones in the woodwinds and single, bell-like chimes in the piano create a more introspective feel – as if looking through a telescope and seeing stars and the planets for the first time. The piece shifts back again to more active rhythms, as if returning to the more mundane sounds of everyday life, multiplying the contrast between the ordinary and the sublime. Margaret Lancaster, flute, Michiyo Suzuki, clarinet and Matt Herskowitz on piano turn in solid performances.
Ineffably Still, track 10, is wonderfully eccentric as the bass clarinet line played by Michiyo Suzuki weaves in and around Gene Pritsker’s distorted electric guitar. There is a fine sense of the unrestrained in the free-form feel of this – an affectionate look, perhaps, at someone untroubled by convention.
The four movements of A Certain Degree of Neurosis occupy tracks 2 through 5 and feature Pat O’Keefe on bass clarinet and Patti Cudd playing percussion. Movement 1 opens with a deep, rolling bass clarinet melody with syncopated cymbals that are accompanied by a steady beat in the drum. Lively and increasingly convoluted, this has an exotic and off-balance feel. Movement 2 is more mysterious, with a sinuous melody and twanging sforzando in the bass clarinet, all accompanied by rhythms that could be from a stately dance. A light drum solo starts Movement 3, and this is soon joined by a rapidly darting line in the bass clarinet. The phrasing is intricate, yet precisely played as the drums and bass clarinet trade lively staccato passages. Long, sad bass clarinet tones open the final movement along with a shimmering cymbal. Now a bouncy melody in the bass clarinet gives a sense of movement. Precise, yet stylish, the playing here is artfully elegant over all four movements.
The title track, Melodies Alone Can Proudly Carry Their Own Death is among three pieces in this album that speak with a more solemn voice. With Lynn Bechtold on violin and Jennifer DeVore playing cello, the sad, discordant feel of this is accentuated by repeating phrases and a rough texture. This piece has an expressive, early 20th century feel, and the violin emerges with the most passion – especially in the higher registers – a beautifully dramatic work. Opposite Extreme of Compassion, a solo violin track featuring Daniele Colombo, also brings out intense emotion, starting with rapid, repeating figures that build in power and complexity. Some lovely double-stopped sections and pizzicato figures add to a sense of increasing tension before this piece concludes with an earnest stridency.
The final track, In Memory of Dave Gotay is for solo cello, played by Borislav Strulev. This begins with deep, mournful tones that continue upward to a crying shrillness. The intonation is powerful and the feeling here is expressive and dramatic – a sense of sadness and wistfulness suffuses this piece. Midway through, the notes become more animated, with rapid, resolutely strong passages and high trills. The slower tempo and melancholy emotion return just before closing with a series of solid sounds that fade quietly away. In Memory of Dave Gotay is an elegant remembrance, performed with great sensitivity.
Melodies Alone Can Proudly Carry Their Own Death is a nicely organized collection that showcases the diversity and kaleidoscopic style of the chamber music of Gene Pritsker. This CD is available directly from Naxos Direct.
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Cellar Vol. 1
The Recital label has issued a new CD titled Cellar, Vol. 1 and producer Sean McCann has assembled a talented group of composers and performers from around the world. Rob Magill and Celia Hollander (California), Michael Vincent Waller (New York), Alec Livaditis (Georgia), James Rushford and Joe Talia (Australia) all appear on this 76 minute CD of live recordings, intended to be heard continuously, as if in concert.
Track 1 is Living in Specific Worlds (2015) by Rob Magill. This piece was created with tape machines, percussion and keyboard instruments and opens with a brief burst of applause, as if in performance. A series of various media sounds are heard from the tape – TV soundtracks, radio station snippets – along with musical instruments, whistles, etc. These generally overlap, cutting in and out for about 10 to 15 seconds. Occasionally a single sound is heard, but it is more often like being in a room where the channels of several televisions or constantly being changed. There is not much continuity or context here, but the variations in density and texture hold the attention of the listener. Feelings shift as different stations are heard – sometimes a familiar sound, sometimes something strange and without any context. Towards the finish the sounds of a video arcade are mixed with more snatches of TV programming, adding yet another layer to process. Living in Specific Worlds is an active and searching piece, a cogent metaphor for the demands on our attention in an information-saturated world.
Live in the Lobby (2015) by Alec Livaditis follows on track 2, and is an improvisation for solo cello. This begins with a run of playfully zany pizzicato notes and then a series of slow, darkly arco passages in the lower registers, full of distortion. The continues along very expressively before fading to a few seconds of silence. The pizzicato notes return – a bit more poignant now, and with a distinctly Asian feel – fading once more to silence. Arco again, heavy with drama, and a nicely moving line with deep, rich tones. This morphs into a slightly distorted and more nervous series of sustained notes that add a sense of tension and uncertainty before fading into the final silence. Live in the Lobby was actually recorded in a lobby in Atlanta and is an emotive and impassioned work, nicely realized around the edges of the range of the cello.
Michael Vincent Waller contributed two vibraphone pieces, ably performed by Caleb Herron. The first of these, Dreaming Vibes (2016) is on track 3 and opens with a slow, dreamy arpeggio that repeats, quietly evoking a simple, mystical feel. Slight variations follow, including moving the pitch up a step. Single notes are heard after each arpeggio, adding an air of dark mystery. Less than five minutes in duration, Dreaming Vibes floats comfortably along, immersing the listener in a warm bath of tremolo.
Vibraphone Studio (2012) followed and this has a more declarative tone with its strong sequence of single notes. This has a more wistful, introspective feel and contains some good counterpoint. Simple chords and a straightforward structure facilitate reflective contemplation, like standing outside on a winter night – cold, still and with the stars shining down. As the piece continues there is a dreamy, dance-like sequence and in later passages there is a bit more movement and activity, but this never strays very far from introspection. Vibraphone Studio is a quiet, meditative journey, nicely performed with an artful touch.
In keeping with the idea of a virtual concert, INTERMISSION, on track 5, is exactly that. Silence for a few moments, followed by a soft hissing, then the sound of liquid filling a glass. Gradually, the sounds of people talking are heard – with much lively discussion – just as if one were in the concert hall lobby. The chime of bells sounding the hour is a nice concluding touch.
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Greetings from here
The initial release from Spoken Records is titled Greetings from here: Audio Postcards in Transition, by Pauline Gloss. An independent literary label, Spoken Records explores the aural and textural implications of language that is “… twisted, bent, warped, broken in service of new ways of comprehending.” Each of the nine postcards in this album are spoken messages from Pauline Gloss to a named correspondent. Created over a period of just two weeks, they are short and confessional in nature – dealing with trans-identity, mental illness, heartbreak and living in a new city. Greetings from here is in the Text-Sound tradition – containing no formal music – but is nevertheless charged with emotion and meaning that extend far beyond the words. As Pauline Gloss wrote: “I was speaking directly from a moment, a landscape, a well. The document as a whole might be read as an attempt at a personal geography in time.”
All of the tracks on this CD are short – from 2 to 5 minutes – and were uttered directly into a laptop microphone. The intentionally low-tech feel adds to the immediate and intimate atmosphere. All of the tracks begin with the words: “Greetings from “, followed by the title of the track. The first of these begins “Greetings from Nylons and a Straight-Jacket,” and you immediately notice that the speaking voice of Ms. Gloss is a deep baritone. Although only lightly alluded to in the liner notes, this is because Ms. Gloss is transgender. Three speaking tracks are mixed together in Nylons and a Straight-Jacket – one is just a series of repeated numbers, but the others describe the unpacking and ordering of possessions in the new apartment. There is a sense of uncertainty here, and the challenges of unfamiliar living arrangements seem to weigh heavily. Midway through, the subject turns to nylon stockings; how they should be worn and how they don’t always fit well. It is at this moment that the unexpectedly deep sound of the voice, the anxiety about relocation to a new place and the banal problems of wearing nylons all combine to elicit a most unlikely affinity and with it a strong empathy with the speaker. We become connected in a way that transcends the literal meaning of the words.
Other tracks on the CD describe different feelings and situations – but all deliver a similar poignancy. Folded Emotions, track 2, is wistful and affectionate, describing the gift of a folded crane made from a foil cigarette wrapper. There small talk about meeting again and how much Albert, the correspondent, is missed. Naming the Unnamable, track 4, is something of a rant about how Pauline’s name is misunderstood or mispronounced by strangers in a way that seems to question her very identity; a compelling insight into a battle most of us never have to fight.
In The Clear Sighted Telephone, a postcard addressed to a friend, Pauline acknowledges that she had just been in a facility as a result of a psychotic break, and that in this distress she imagined that there was a telephone where she could could talk to any of her friends. Her name, Pauline, was taken from the bible she was reading there – from the story of the apostle Paul, blinded on the road to Damascus – and in this new vision there arose a new reality. Track 6, Typewritten in Stone, is accompanied by the sound of a typewriter and a separate track singing Only the Lonely. The words describe being envious of a woman who is magnetically attractive – and seemingly never lonely. Conversely track 7, Valentines Day Reclaimed, deals with finding an unlikely sense of community at the local Thai restaurant among strangers who spoke no English, but whose warm acceptance of Pauline held off the loneliness of that day, if only for a few hours.
Track 8, Pre-Heartbreak Heartbreak, describes an emotional attachment that Pauline has developed for another girl in the outpatient program who is also in crisis. The sound of the run-out grooves from a vinyl record play in the background. Pauline feels helpless yet deeply involved – unable to spare any emotional energy for support of another. There is a real sense of despair here – an ending before the thing has even begun. All of the tracks on this CD bring us face to face with the burdens our culture has imposed on those whose gender and identity are a work in progress – and this recording is a gift of great courage and unmistakable sacrifice.
Greetings from here is a truly extraordinary album, placing the listener in completely new emotional terrain. This is powerful material, bearing witness to a complex and unguarded vulnerability that most of us can hardly imagine.
Greetings from here is available directly from Spoken Records. and is also downloadable.
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Rhyolite is an abandoned gold mining town in southwest Nevada and also the title of a new LP album on vinyl from populist records. Featured on this record are works by Chris Kallmyer, Julia Holter and Lucky Dragons (Luke Fischbeck, Sarah Rara) . The pieces on this album are connected by a unique sound installation, a sense of remoteness, a constant blowing wind and the haunting landscapes of the deep desert.
Side A of the record contains Fence, Amargosa Desert by Chris Kallmyer. This is a field recording of a sound installation consisting of some 200 old glass bottles collected in Rhyolite and mounted on a wire fence to catch the desert wind. The fence was created in 2010 and recorded by Chris and Andrew McIntosh on May 24, 2013. The sound of this is more musical than might be imagined – much like flutes combined with a pipe organ. The bottles are not tuned to any specific pitch and many were deformed after over a hundred years of lying in the desert heat. As a result, a number of different tones are heard at once. The colors, although muted, are nevertheless very appealing and seem centered in the middle and lower registers. The wind activating this is barely heard above a low roar and the smoothly sustained tones gently rise and fall in volume accordingly. There is a definite aeolian character to this, but a mysterious and remote feel as well. At times there is a percussive sound as if one of the bottles is knocking against a fence post, and this adds a nice counterpoint to the otherwise fluid texture.
The tones from the bottles seem to be always changing – in volume, intensity or by slight variations in pitch and yet there is a timeless and settled feel to this piece, deliberate and constant, like the desert wind that animates it. This is the sonic equivalent of watching a fire with dancing flames. The Wind in High Places by John Luther Adams convincingly evoked the wind from music – Fence, Amargosa Desert succeeds in creating music from the wind.
Track 1 on Side B of the record is Why We Come to Californy sung by Julia Holter, in response to the recording of Fence, Amargosa Desert. A song from the dust bowl days, Why We Come to Californy was originally written by Flora Robertson and first published by Shafter FSA Camp in 1940. Ms. Holter recorded this in the open air of the native plant nursery that is part of the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley. Sounds of the open space accompany – a light breeze, birds chirping – the singing seems to be a natural part of the organic surroundings. The words are clear and precise with long, pure tones – not fast but deliberately meandering and without conventional melody. The tones are often extended and sustained – reminiscent of the sound of the bottles in Fence, Amargosa Desert.
This simple folk song has a strong connection to the environment, as Ms. Holter explained in the liner notes: “They were escaping the dust in Oklahoma – but I feel like there is even more dust here! The song is about the environment messing with you – or that you are messing with it. This was interesting to me because it’s also how I understand the desert.“ Towards the end of the piece the singing voice is heard in layers, and this adds a mystical element as well as a touch of sadness. The pitch control and a cappella singing in the open air was effective and the recording took in just enough of the ambient sounds to make the connection of the song with the environment. Why We Come to Californy rises from the ground like a ghost from the distant past.
The remaining tracks on Side B are five short electronic compositions by Lucky Dragons, also created in response to Fence, Amargosa Desert. These appear to be processed from the Fence recording, but with original electronic elements added. As Luke Fischbeck of Lucky Dragons explained: “I’m curious about the layer of meaning that can be added to the landscape. And if I can separate the two (landscape and sound installation)? For me it’s been a process of reducing the recording of the fence to essential elements to try to strip away the markers of the original landscape and pick out the sounds that are more intentional. To find the intentionality in it.”
This succeeds admirably. In the first of these tracks, Wind at more than one speed, we hear the rushing of a gusty wind predominating over the somewhat subdued sound of multiple bottle tones. Just 50 seconds long, Wind at more than one speed captures more of the natural than the musical phenomena, although both elements are clearly present. The next track, Wind on four reasonant poles, has more of a constant wind velocity that establishes a tighter connection between the bottle tones and the environment. The result is more coherently mysterious and evocative of the remote, wide open spaces. Organized glass follows and this is a fully electronic realization, with conventionally pitched percussive notes, like idealized bottles tapped with mallets. A nice rhythmic groove develops as this piece proceeds, neatly crossing the line from a simulation of the sound installation to a musical abstraction of it.
Wind as a series of events takes the abstraction further, with bursts of loud static mixed with pure, sustained electronic realizations of the bottle tones. It is if a thunderstorm is intruding on the quiet solitude of the desert. The final track of the album, Permanent melody, completes the absorption of Fence, Amargosa Desert into the musical realm. There are no wind sounds heard and there is a new smoothness and fluidity to the bottle tones with a more robust and pure timbre. The deeper tones, as well as the higher pitches are increasingly active and seem to contain more overtones. The mysticism is still strongly present but this is clearly an idealized realization of the aeolian sounds recorded in the field.
These five Lucky Dragons tracks examine the original Fence sound installation recordings from a number of important perspectives – from the natural to the abstract – documenting the ways in which nature and musical phenomena can inhabit the same perceptive space. Kudos to Nick Tipp, who once again provides the critical editing and mixing skills that bring out the subtle details. The excellent mastering was done by Gil Tamazyan at Capsule labs. Rhyolite is benchmark album that stands squarely at the crossroads of sound, the natural environment and musical perception.
Rhyolite is available as a vinyl LP and via digital download directly from populist records.
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Images is a new CD of original piano music by Jennifer Castellano who has composed and performs all 14 of the tracks heard on this album. Ms. Castellano received her Masters in Music and Composition from SUNY, Purchase, NY, has received commissions to write orchestral works for the North/South Consonance Chamber Orchestra and has been a featured artist on Marvin Rosen’s WPRB Classical Discoveries radio program.
The 14 tracks on this CD are all short pieces – the longest just a little over three minutes – but all are carefully crafted with a sense of style and structure that make each a miniature showpiece. Cool Cats, track 7 is typical, starting with a slow repetitive line in the left hand and a wistful melody above. Midway through the mood brightens as the tempo increases and more notes are heard. A repeat of the opening completes the form and provides a timely sense of closure. The counterpoint and harmony are solidly constructed and sensitively played.
Other tracks express variously different feelings, but all share the same attention to detail. Track 2, titled Three, has an easy, jazzy feel with a nice descending bass line. Peaceful Pause, track 3, is just a little over one minute long yet packs a strong sense of dramatic grandeur, like looking out from the top of a high mountain or taking in the view from a tall skyscraper. Ms. Castellano is from the New York area and many of the tracks in the first half of Images charmingly conjure the landscape and scenery of city. It is easy to imagine these pieces as the soundtrack of a video: Central Park, the bridges and riverfront, city streets and towering buildings – all are implicitly present in this music.
The second half of Images, tracks 8 through 14, were inspired by a trip to the Holy Land. Prayer at Dawn, track 9, starts with a low, dark chord and series of slow notes that suggest a brooding feel. As this progresses the colors lighten somewhat, but the tone is all seriousness. By the River, track 10, begins with a simple flowing counterpoint and an introspective accompanying melody. The mood brightens midway and the complexity of the counterpoint increases before slowing gracefully to a finish. The Garden, on track 13, has a slow, discouraging feel mixed with sadness and regret – perhaps inspired by the story of the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Other tracks, such as In the Beginning and Avian Adventures, have the distinctive feel of dance music with strong rhythms and clean melodic lines. Modern Dance, on track 5, has syncopated rhythms and a bluesy harmonic feel. Dancing on Water, the last track on the CD has a bright, upbeat melody played at a brisk tempo and projects a happy, expressive feel. Much of the music on this CD would be at home in the dance studio.
The recording and mastering by Shaul Dover also deserve mention: each note and chord are clearly heard and the audio is well-balanced. Images is a precisely crafted series of miniatures, meticulously played, that artfully evoke the composer’s surroundings, both at home and abroad.
Images is available from Amazon and iTunes starting June 20, 2016
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From the FWD: /rcrds/ label comes a new album by Luke Martin titled residues. This is a five-track CD of experimental music created by intensive collaboration with a string quartet. Each track in the album is based on original poetry, as Luke Martin explains in the liner notes: “Each score was created from the images of five everyday objects, which were slightly altered via parameters of brightness, contrast, and exposure to make ‘residues’ of the original images, and then coupled with ‘residual’ poems I wrote for each piece.”
The first track, remembrances, begins with a soft scraping sound with just a hint of musical tones in the higher strings. There is a quiet but purposefully active feel to this. Some low buzzing in the cello is just audible, sounding like distant bees and adding an organic component to the atmosphere. The scraping continues, louder now, with some occasional squeaks and taps. There is a nice balance between the soft strings and the industrial sounds – the latter does not overwhelm. As the piece progresses it maintains a continuously active texture that evokes a sense of movement that is never dull or boring.
histories is track 2 and here the string sounds here are much stronger, especially in the lower registers which carry a sense of foreboding. Individual passages are played simultaneously – unconnected, but they play off one another as if in conversation. Now a brief silence is followed by strong declarative phrases below, and answered by a flurry of light skittering notes in the violins. More silence and another strong statement in the viola. Light, airy sounds reappear in the violin – almost flute-like in tone and making for a good contrast – like hearing differing opinions during a discussion. This is followed by three strong voices grinding together with higher screeching noises rising above the low texture and evoking a sense of tension and anxiety. The piece continues along in this way – episodic, with low and loud passages countered by lighter and softer phrases in the violins all followed by a few seconds of silence. The various instruments seem to be reacting to each other, echoing emotions ranging from anger to fear.
Track 3 is structures and this begins with soft whispers “Can you say something?” A strong tone from the viola and a quieter line in the violin obscure the voices. The string tones are rough and sustained and add to the disconcerting atmosphere. The phrases can be heard when the strings subside, but there is little perceived continuity to the speech. Long silences intervene, adding to the mystery. The piece proceeds in this fashion with soft, indistinct voices countered by loud, angst-filled string tones. The spoken phrases are repeated, but not connected together and the strings can sound, at times, like sirens or train horns. The contrast between the secretive voices and aggressive string tones is emphasized by the soft whispering and the feeling is secretive and conspiratorial.
Track 4, fragilities, and for the first two minutes this contains only ambient sounds – some soft scraping, a few thumps – as if some sort of quiet preparation is in progress. Whispered poetry and the creaking sound of a string being tightened is heard, and this adds a bit of anxiety to the atmosphere. All is mechanical and wooden – no musical tones are played – and the whispers create a sort of confidential atmosphere, as if there is some undercover plot afoot. fragilities continues in this subdued fashion, and we are all in on the secret.
The final track of the album is unfoldings and this begins with a tutti chord of instruments and voices that fill the ears – like a group of air horns all going off at once. Strong, sustained tones build in intensity, sounding as if in warning. There is a distinct sense of foreboding here, even while the harmonies are refreshing and intriguing. At the midpoint these sounds begin a slow decrescendo, finally fading to a silence. The rest of unfoldings is now quiet or barely heard – no musical tones – only soft ambient sounds of breathing, light tapping, etc. This makes for a strong contrast to the alarms of the opening section and continues on for the balance of the piece, fading to silence at the finish.
residues lies at the intersection of music and sound, always pushing the listener to connect to the dots. The mix of whispered poetry, ambient sounds and musical fragments form a matrix of possibilities for the imagination that provide new pathways for expression and emotion.
Jonathan Tang, violin
Yvette Holzwarth, violin
Joy Yi, viola
Thea Mesirow, cello
residues is available directly from FWD: /rcrds/
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Breadwoman & Other Tales
Breadwoman & Other Tales is a recently-released CD on the RVNG Intl label featuring the music of Anna Homler and Steve Moshier. Breadwoman is the persona adopted by vocalist Homler and the liner notes describe her as follows: “Breadwoman is a guide, a storyteller and an observer of human events. She communicates with gestures and songs in a language that is both mysterious and familiar. Breadwoman is so very old that she stands outside of time. Her territory is that of the interior, where there are no distinctions and all things are whole.”
Although the CD was released in February 2016, the music dates from the early 1980s Los Angeles new music scene. Anna Homler was deeply involved in performance art and recorded the vocalizing that ultimately became Breadwoman as she drove around town in her car. At the same time Steve Moshier was a percussionist with the Cartesian Reunion Memorial Orchestra, often performing at the same experimental dance and theater venues where Homler appeared. Their collaboration was natural, with Anna supplying her cassette recordings to Moshier, who created the electronic accompaniment. The process was iterative – the vocals evolving as each version of the electronics was realized. This was a complex and time-consuming undertaking given the technology of the time – Moshier was working with a Kurzweil K2000 synthesizer, a Prophet analog synth, a Sequential Circuits sequencer along with 2-track and 4-track tapes.
The resulting tracks on Breadwoman & Other Tales are remarkable for their convincing insight and invocation of primal music. None of the vocal lines are heard in English but are rather spoken in some unknown ancient tongue, perhaps Eastern European in origin. The melody lines are clear and precisely sung by Ms. Homler, and the strange accents and words persuasively evoke life in a small village thousands of years ago. Moshier’s electronic accompaniment is completely contemporary and, by comparison, futuristic. This makes for an engaging balance – the timeworn words and melodies offset by analog electronic tones, adding to the mysterious and mystical feel in all these pieces.
Even without comprehensible words or context, the songs are recognizable for the human emotions they express. Anna Homler studied anthropology as an undergraduate at UCLA and the daily ebb and flow of primal society fills each of these pieces. Gu She’ Na’ Di, track 3, could be a folk melody about new love – full of optimism and hope – with a clarinet line that compliments the singing perfectly. Giyah on track 4, however, is solemn and deliberate, sung mostly in the lower registers, as if some sad event in village history is being recounted. Sirens, on track 6, is full of deep electronic tones and a menacing, predatory growl that invites fear and panic – reminding us that primal existence is precarious, full of uncertainty and danger.
Oo Nu Dah, track 2, has a mysterious pulsating in the electronics with a slightly alien feel as a faint voice comes to the top of the texture, chant-like, in a prayer of supplication. The melody becomes layered – perhaps a proto-canon – and it is as if we are witness to the origins of devotional worship. Celestial Ash, the final track, takes this to the collective level in a cloud of quiet whispers as a distant electronic humming sound emerges, building in volume – as if the sun is rising on the assembled. Voices are heard in short phrases and the electronics evoke a dignified alien presence. A melodic recap of the opening is sung – the language sounds vaguely Celtic – and we could be present at the annual gathering at Stonehenge 4000 years ago.
Breadwoman & Other Tales takes us back to a time when life was highly spiritual and lived in the moment. This CD reminds us that our brains are hardwired for the primal life, and we still respond to its ancient rhythms and sensibility.
Breadwoman & Other Tales is available on Amazon and iTunes.
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Andrew Tholl / Corey Fogel / Devin Hoff
CONDITIONAL TENSION is a recently released CD from populist records that features two extended improvisations by violinist Andrew Tholl, percussionist Corey Fogel, and Devin Hoff on bass. All three have worked together in various local groups, but CONDITIONAL TENSION is their first release as an improvising trio. The two pieces on this album were recorded live at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in November 2012.
The first track on the CD is titled sensitivity to initial conditions, and is performed with acoustic instruments. This begins with a low continuous tone in the bass joined by smooth, sustained tones in the violin. The percussion is light and more active and the thin texture produces a gentle, exotic feel. Complex passages ebb and flow throughout as the piece unfolds, with solos passed around between the players. Familiar bass and drum rhythms form a foundation for some really dazzling violin playing by Andrew Tholl, reminiscent of late Coltrane. Corey Fogel’s accessible drumming becomes an anchor point for the ear as the growl and squeal of the bass and violin lines skitter and whirl about. The textural surface surges like a restless tide, constantly changing in color and density, but never sounding threatening or intimidating.
At 16:00 a crescendo builds that is comprised of high, squiggly violin passages, a strong arco bass underneath and a long cymbal roll that makes for a very effective combination. This eventually breaks down – like an unstable chemical compound – as each instrument goes its own way. New amalgams form, break apart and recombine again as the piece progresses. By 33:00 a very complex texture emerges in the bass and violin with the percussion hanging back, adding a few comments now and then. The volume builds and then retreats, ultimately dying away in a calm and settled finish. sensitivity to initial conditions is a beautifully wrought piece that combines seamless improvisation, impressive technique and outstanding playing.
reasonable strategies for tense conjugation is the second track on the CD and for this amplified instruments were employed. The piece has a louder, more intense sound with an edge that cuts rather than caresses. There is a strong, almost menacing feel to this especially in the snarling bass lines at the opening. The percussion is helpfully steady but more militant, especially in the snare and cymbal. Complex figures emerge in the violin and bass lines that float on an undercurrent of tension propelled by some nicely active drumming. A rapid squiggling in the violin appears with high, stabbing tones that bring to mind a free running electronic oscillator. The players enter and recede in changing combinations – the quieter sections benefiting by a lighter density and fewer notes.
At 17:15 there is a solemn stretch of slow pizzicato violin and bass notes that evoke a sense of sadness. This becomes progressively more distraught until a cry of agony is ultimately heard in the violin with a series of stinging passages. The intensity and volume build led by the drums and finally reaching a roar in the bass. The violin becomes completely unhinged in a frenetic hail of needle-sharp notes. The drums and bass gradually fill in underneath until the sudden ending.
reasonable strategies for tense conjugation is a fierce and exhilarating ride that pushes the expressive envelope with superbly controlled energy. The two tracks on this CD provide a vivid contrast between the expressive powers of acoustic and amplified sounds while highlighting the strengths of each.
Special mention must be made of the sound engineering, especially the recording and mixing by Nick Tipp, who adds to his impressive body of work. Listening to conditional tension is like being within arm’s length of each player – all the nuance and detail of improvisation is present and there is no noticeable background noise during the performances. The mastering was by Justin DeHart. The challenges of making a live recording outside the studio have been fully met in this CD.
CONDITIONAL TENSION is available directly from populist records.
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Nicholas Deyoe, Clint McCallum
Populist Records has released a limited edition 10 inch red vinyl recording by Los Angeles-based trombonist Matt Barbier titled FACE|RESECTION. The record features two short pieces by Nicholas Deyoe and Clint McCallum. According to the liner notes: “Both works explore hyper industrial regularity that sonically functions on the imperfect regularities created by an organic body.” Matt Barbier is a founding member of both gnarwhallaby and Trio Kobayashi, two local new music ensembles, and he has also appeared in the widely-praised opera Hopscotch.
Side A of FACE|RESECTION contains Facesplitter (2011/2014) by Nicholas Deyoe and this begins with loud, rough tones that oscillate in dynamics and pitch, much like a motor running or the hearing of some nearby industrial process. At times the sound approaches a kind of snarl that might be some fantastic beast or perhaps a group of synchronized air wrenches. At 3:32 there is an extended musical tone, eventually replaced by more rough, industrial voicing. The wide diversity of sounds – and the strength required to produce them – is impressive. FACE|RESECTION, as written by Nicholas Deyoe is at the ragged edge of intonation and technique, and adds a challenging new vocabulary to trombone playing.
Side B of the record is Bowel Resection (2011), by Clint McCallum and this has a similarly rough, industrial tone but is more consistent in pitch and texture. The sound is a continuous growl and reminiscent of a fast motorboat or a racing car. The pitch varies, speeding up and down in jumps, as if an engine is being tuned for maximum power. The circular breathing by Matt Barbier is extraordinary and surely ranks as an athletic achievement – aspiring trombone players should be required to hear this piece. Bowel Resection is a convincing musical portrait of internal combustion heard close up.
FACE|RESECTION is available as a collectible 10 inch vinyl disk, complete with eye-catching cover art from Populist Records. The two pieces can also be streamed here.
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Music of Philip Glass
Paris-based artist Nicolas Horvath has released a new CD on the Naxos Grand Piano label titled Glassworlds 2 featuring the complete Philip Glass piano etudes, numbers 1 through 20. The etudes were begun in the mid-1990s by Glass to expand the repertoire of new music for what had become an active concert schedule for solo piano. These pieces were written after the success of Einstein on the Beach and the scoring of Koyaanisqatsi and represent something of a return by Philip Glass to his early studies as a student of Nadia Boulanger. Etudes 1 through 10 were written during the 1990s in between other works such as Hydrogen Jukebox, String Quartet No. 5 and Symphony No. 2.
These first ten etudes, known together as Book I, are technically challenging – but they are at a distinct stylistic distance from the early minimalism of, say, Music With Changing Parts that famously features repetition, limited dynamic range and static harmonies. Etude No. 1, for example, begins with four strong chords followed by rapid trilling and a crescendo-decrescendo style in the passage work that is reminiscent of the great 19th century piano virtuosi. There is a detectable echo of early minimalism here but it has been subordinated to requirements of a more demanding and expressive technique, masterfully provided on this CD by Nicolas Horvath. Etudes 3 and 4 are even more dramatically phrased, almost as if they were lifted from a piano concerto.
Etude 6 has a powerful emotional component – as well as a touch of pathos – that also lends itself to a more passionate interpretation. This etude has become a favorite of Nicolas Horvath, as he writes in the liner notes: “The only recording of Book I which was available for many years did not excite me, but while attending a recital in which the composer himself performed a selection I radically changed my view, inspired by Glass’ own poetical pianism, and helped by the hall’s acoustic, my instinct recreated them as if they were performed in a Lisztian or Rachmaninov-like manner and I suddenly understood their immense potential.”
Book 2 – Etudes 11 through 20 – were composed over a longer time period, from about 2000 onward to 2013. The music of Book 2 has a completely different point of view, as Philip Glass writes: “The first ten really have a pedagogical aspect to them for my own development. The second set have nothing or very little to do with that. I began working in the world of ideas… I did not put restrictions on the technique.” Etude 12, for example, opens with strong repeating figures that impart a complex, questioning feel along with cross currents and a swirling, unsettled aspect. Etude 13 is a frantic, slightly out of control piece, filled with powerful scales running up and down that seem almost disoriented at times. By contrast, Etude 16 is smooth and restrained, with a calm, reflective feeling that is beautifully brought out by the sensitive playing of Nicolas Horvath. Number 19 is slower with a series of single, deliberate notes in the bass line combined with nicely articulated counterpoint in the upper registers that produce a more contemporary feel. There is more variety in the Book 2 etudes and more scope for expressive technique.
Nicolas Horvath, with precise playing and imaginative interpretation has made Glassworlds 2 an indispensable reference for the serious enthusiast as well as marking an important milestone in the evolution of the music of Philip Glass.
Glassworlds 2 is available on Amazon.
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