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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Naxos has released a new Composers Concordance CD titled Song Cycles, featuring the works of eight composers with text by eight poets. Each song cycle is comprised of two to four short selections and the subjects range from failed relationships to the classic character portraits of the Canterbury Tales. The playing and singing are beautifully realized on the entire CD and each piece convincingly carries forward its story with music and voice.
Carefully Try Balance is the first song cycle, consisting of three sections written by three different composers, all based on the poetry of Toby Roberts. The first of these, Part 1 was composed by David Gotay and begins with a strong piano chord and blustery flute passages. The clear soprano voice of Elizabeth Cherry soon joins, singing of winter weather; a metaphor for a relationship that is going cold. The flute answers each passage in the voice and the blend is very effective. The singing is precise and easy to follow, with good tone and clear annunciation. There is a chill in this that sets the stage for the sections that follow Part 2, by Zach Seely, begins with deep piano notes, dark and melancholy. The soprano enters with spoken text followed by dramatic singing whose volume and emotion approach operatic dimensions. This is the breaking up of the relationship with low, dark notes in the piano and coldly spoken words.
Part 3, by Thomas Carlo Bo, opens with a lighter, more optimistic piano line and the soprano now embarks on a more bluesy, reflective line. There is a sense of getting past the pain of the breakup, a more philosophical feel: “Life and romance can be cruel – both are over too soon.” The three sections, although separately composed, work very well together and the arc of the story is carried forward seamlessly throughout. This is also a tribute to the artful playing and singing that infuse this work. Carefully Try Balance is a fine example of the power of good writing and close artistic cooperation.
The second song cycle on the CD is Blues From an Airport Bar, composed by Gene Pritsker, with poetry by Jacob Miller and vocals by Charles Coleman. These three are reunited having appeared together on an earlier CD, Manhattan in Charcoal. The feel is similar and this four-movement work opens with a bluesy piano and Coleman’s solid baritone lamenting the departure of his former lover aboard an airplane that has just taken off. He is a poet who has lost at love and now considers his fate from an airport bar stool. There is a sad, confessional feel to this – almost Sinatra-like – as the alcohol begins its work. Movement 2 has a wonderfully tipsy line in the piano and just a bit less coherence in the lyrics as the singer drinks further into his cups. There are recriminations and regrets, but this movement ends on a questionably sincere “I wish her the best…”
Movement 3 is much slower and nicely evokes the effect of alcohol fully felt. The low notes in the piano and voice point to the depressive effect of the liquor and the lyrics meander through unconnected thoughts, honest realizations and unlikely scenarios of reconciliation. The singing here is outstanding; precise yet fully expressing that hazy combination of honest assessment and alcohol-induced fog. Movement 4 is upbeat, with a sense of release – the failure of the relationship is taken into a bigger context and the experience will become grist for the poet’s art. Blues from an Airport Bar charmingly captures the pain of a lost love in the familiar confines of an airport watering hole, the sadness, anger and alcohol perfectly reflected in the music and lyrics.
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Los Angeles-based Populist Records has released PRISM, a new CD of music by Scott Worthington. Composed between 2010 and 2012, PRISM widens the circle of masterful work heard on his previous CD Even the Light Itself Falls. All the pieces on this new album are performed by Scott Worthington on the double bass, some accompanied by electronics with others recorded and layered three or five times.
At Dusk (2010), for double bass and electronics, is the first track and this begins with a satisfying pizzicato thump followed by a low growling arco note and a series of higher, questioning tones. The sequence repeats with variations, each passage ending in silence but with a faint, quivering echo in the electronics. More sequences follow with the same elements, but more complex now in their variations. There is a nice mix of textures and tones that are captured as ghostly echoes that seem to hover in the air. The sense is of low intensity power, like looking at the sun on the horizon. At 7:15 the feeling turns a bit more settled and gentle – the reverberations becoming more optimistic and less alien. More complex rhythms follow, but there is less roughness in the lower notes and a smoother, more welcoming feel. At 12:00 there is a sense of fading energy – as if the sun is setting – and there are some lovely passages with pleasing reverberations. By 14:00 there is a growing sense of departure and the piece concludes on a series of higher notes that fade quietly away.
The quiet echoes heard in At Dusk are reminiscent of one of the techniques employed by Helmut Lachenmann in his Got Lost (2007/2008), where strong notes from the singer are sympathetically echoed by the strings of an open grand piano. At Dusk demonstrates the amazingly versatile sounds that can be elicited from the double bass and Worthington’s perceptive use of them when combined with electronics.
Tracks 2 and 4 comprise two versions of a Quintet (after Feldman)(2011). Both of these pieces are short – a bit more than 3 minutes each – but consist of five separate layers of double bass. Version 1 begins with a low, rumbling chord with a rough, woody bottom and slightly metallic tones in the middle and higher registers. The tones are smooth and sustained, discordant and with a somewhat alien feel at times, but mostly warm and accessible. There is a sense of grandeur in the lowest tones, like being deep in the unknown world of dark ocean depths.
Version 2 continues in a similar pattern with low, sustained chords agreeably layered among the five double bass tracks. There is slightly more dissonance here, but this never results in an unsettled feel and the effect is to increase the exotic ambiance. Both versions of Quintet (after Feldman) seem to shift between the familiar and the unknown, but always with a deliberately comforting elegance.
Prism (2010) occupies track 3 and this consists of three double bass layers. This starts with a single high chord followed by silence. This is repeated three times, then again with notes that skip about, although the overall feeling is quiet and solemn. The piece proceeds in this way, a series of passages followed by a few seconds of silence. In one section the notes seem to chirp between the high and middle registers with an almost reedy sound. There is a lonely, open feel to all of this, with a touch of emptiness. Deeper notes appear, adding mystery.
At 4:10 a series of active notes are heard above a deep counterpoint. By 5:00 the tempo slows and thin, sustained tones are heard floating above soft, darker notes in the middle registers. Higher notes, now alone, produce a feeling of remoteness but this gradually evolves into a warm wash below with playful, bouncy notes riding above. Now a sudden low rumble with dissonant sounds that are followed by a light sustained tone, fading at the finish. Scott Worthington manages to evoke a wide variety of feelings from the double bass and the layering is artfully done.
The last track on the CD is Reflections (in memoriam Stephano Scodanibbio) (2012), for double bass and electronics, and this begins with a low drone that alternates between a dissonant growl and a somewhat thinner moan. High, sighing tones join in, adding to the mournful mood. Some roughness and a questioning feel are heard in the middle registers producing a sense of anguish and uncertainty. The relentlessness of the drone now becomes oppressive, like a great weight bearing down on the texture. The low, melancholy sounds fill the ears and seem to inhabit the listener’s head. Great sonic tears are falling and cry out in their sadness. By 9:00 the tempo slows, the drone diminishes and this compelling statement of disconsolate sorrow concludes as the sound slowly fades away.
Reflections is a fine tribute and a powerfully empathetic work that will move all who have experienced permanent loss.
PRISM was recorded at the Conrad Prebys Music Center in San Diego, CA and the sound engineering here – given the layering and subtle use of electronics – is first rate. PRISM expands the scope of Scott Worthington’s music to encompass an extraordinarily wide variety sensations and emotions, all conjured from the traditional double bass.
PRISM is available from Populist Records.
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Twilight of the Dreamboats
Cold Blue Music has released a new CD titled Twilight of the Dreamboats composed, performed and recorded by Chas Smith in 2014. Featuring a combination of sound sculptures and steel guitars, this electro-acoustic work is “…an ever-evolving single gesture, a seamless blend of tones and timbres.” Chas Smith has an extensive resume, including study with Morton Subotnick, Mel Powell, James Tenny and Harold Budd and he is also active as a performer in film scores.
The sonic materials that comprise this work are sound sculptures designed by Smith with names like Bertoia m718, Que Lastas, lockheed, Mantis and Sceptre. Additionally, Chas Smith performs on a series of modified steel guitars. The result is a precise, smooth sound that flows like liquid metal and evokes a variety of colors and feelings as it proceeds.
Twilight of the Dreamboats begins with a low, continuous tone that is soon joined by higher harmonics. There is a sense of discovery here, of something new and uncharted right in front of us. A low pedal tone enters, adding a sense of the profound. There is a haunting, continuously smooth texture to this; pensive but not dark or ominous. Swirling tones at 4:00 gradually break up this assurance and the feeling turns more mechanical and industrial as if we are in the presence of some large machine. A great, low rumbling soon overwhelms, like a large airplane passing overhead.
By 7:30, a softer, gentler feel emerges and the higher tones have again turned more optimistic and uplifting. Gradually the tone darkens somewhat, becoming more mysterious. A low moaning arises within and underneath the sound, adding a bit of anxiety. Halfway through the piece, a more approachable sound is heard and even the low tones have become warm and consonant. A soft wobbling is heard, reminiscent of the sound a worn bearing makes as it turns and this gives a sense of purposeful motion. By 16:00 we are in a whirring dream scape that contains some large, unseen mechanical force.
Now a high, barely perceptible pitch floats faintly over the swirling darkness, an arc of light in the gloom. The heavier sounds slowly dissemble, becoming less coherent by 22:00. A metallic moaning is heard, as if some large structure is breaking up. The pace slows, the sounds become quieter and there is a sense of settling as the piece slowly fades away.
That Twilight of the Dreamboats elicits such a wide range of feelings and emotions without a beat, recognizable musical instruments, harmonic progressions or familiar musical gestures is quite remarkable. The aesthetic power of the electro-acoustic processes and techniques deployed by Chas Smith on this CD is impressive and demonstrate just how far his music has evolved into a sound world of singular character and power..
Twilight of the Dreamboats is available from Cold Blue Music (CB0045)
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