Alcatraz, Eberbach AZ spread

music by Ingram Marshall

photography by Jim Bengston

Starkland DVD

While the audio to these two collaborative works has been available for some time, this Starkland DVD release is the first time that Ingram Marshall’s music and Jim Bengston’s photography for Alcatraz and Eberbach can be seen in its combined form. While I’m sure nothing could replace a live performance of these pieces, this DVD maintains all the rich immersive qualities of any good multimedia collaboration. Artistically, both works are a testament to the “difficulty of simplicity.” The ideas are direct, expertly executed, and immediately palatable while revealing more nuance upon repeated listenings.

I will fully confess to not being much of a visual person. I cannot speak at length about technical issues in the photography. I find the visuals to be stunning and affecting even though the presentation is just a cross-fade slideshow. By today’s technical standards that doesn’t sound too interesting but the instant anyone would try the “Burns Effect” on these images they would destroy the resonance these images make through their rather monolithic simplicity. Bengston has all the right images at the right times and clearly conveys motion throughout each piece.

Alcatraz, the longer work of the two, is understandably darker in tone and more disquieting than its companion. Having only experienced the audio version of this piece in the past, while I watched the visuals I was reminded that Marshall’s soundcraft was really only half of the work. I do not say that to diminish anything that Marshall did; quite the opposite. Alcatraz works quite well on its own as a purely audio experience. Or, at least, it did before I saw the photography. Now that I’ve seen how Bengston’s images inform and deepen my understanding of the work.

Marshall’s music is not generally known for wild and chaotic textures but Alcatraz relies on disquieted energy and anticipation in extremely Marshallian terms. The music channels the watery ride out to the island and keeps that churning sense of nervous energy until we enter the prison. Sometimes the frantic arpeggiations which accompany the images within the prison struck me as a little too joyous but it ended up always being rooted in nervousness and ominousness. As we go deeper and deeper into the prison the music becomes increasingly desolate and lonely. Hope only emerges again as we leave the building.

Eberbach is a metaphorical parallel for many reasons. The title refers to a German monastery in the Rhine Valley. Men isolated from society within the walls of a dark stone structure is clearly the connective tissue which binds these two works together. In Eberbach, however, the music never generates any amount of nervous energy and why would it? Calm plaintive environmental and atmospheric sounds are tinged slightly with manipulation as the photographs take us around and through the monastery. While Eberbach parallels Alcatraz in some respects, it is also an opposite. The form of both works is similar (starting outside, moving inside) but Eberbach does not end with an emergence back to the outside world. We are taken into the monastery and stay there. Marshall uses same/similar sound sources for the deep interior as he used in Alcatraz but with a completely different affect. Eberbach soothes while Alcatraz looms.

Both Alcatraz and Eberbach stand on their own but both clearly benefit from the juxtaposition of the other. This relationship is identical to how Marshall’s music and Bengston’s photography are simultaneously independent yet connected. They could be experienced apart from the other but clearly shouldn’t be. This is an excellent DVD with great reproductions of the visuals (the aspect ratio has not been tampered with and maintains the 35 mm size) and the audio is available in the original stereo mix as well as 5.1 surround.

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The Chord Catalogue, Within Fourths/Within Fifths vriezen

music of Tom Johnson and Samuel Vriezen

Samuel Vriezen, piano

Edition Wandelweiser Records

In the interest of “full disclosure,” when I saw that Samuel Vriezen had begun a Kickstarter to fund his recording of Tom Johnson’s The Chord Catalogue I signed up and pledged money immediately. If you know me you probably know that I am a big fan of Johnson’s music and I was familiar with Johnson’s own recording of The Chord Catalogue. On the surface one might question if a second recording of all the 8178 chords found in a single octave was warranted but Vriezen’s technique brings out a new understanding of the composition. Yes, “all” Vriezen is doing is playing every combination of notes within an octave (first all the 2 voice combinations, then 3 voice, then 4, until the single 13-note cluster ends the piece) but Vriezen rides a peculiar edge between “all chords sound the same” and highlighting the rising chromatic lines which bring about an inherent amount of harmonic tension. Vriezen’s touch and blistering speed take the simple concept from a pedantic list into one of the most sustained examples of harmonic tension since Tristan und Isolde.

Vriezen’s articulation of the sinewy rising chromatic lines in each segment of The Chord Catalogue is then unwound and brought down for Vriezen’s own composition Within Fourths/Within Fifths. Vriezen describes the work as every combination of pitches a perfect fourth or fifth away from neighboring voices. The internal theory doesn’t de facto make a good composition, of course. Vriezen’s work does stand on its own as a slow and steady progression through expanding sonorous harmonies. The openness of the chords is the perfect tonic to the sheer density of the Johnson. The mad rush through chromatic lines is replaced with an almost complete lack of direction. Vriezen’s composition shows that there is still a lot to be done with fourths and fifths without making chords that sound like they belong in the TV theme of 70s cop shows.

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Afterglow afterglow

music of Keeril Makan

performed by International Contemporary Ensemble

mode records

  • Mercury Songbirds for alto flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion
  • Husk for flute, oboe and harp
  • Afterglow for piano
  • Becoming Unknown for flute/bass flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, trumpet and double bass
  • Mu for violin
  • After Forgetting for clarinet, piano, percussion, violin, and cello


performed by ICE:

Eric Lamb, flutes; Joshua Rubin, clarinets, James Austin Smith, oboe; Gareth Flowers, trumpet; Erik Carlson, violin; Kivie Cahn-Lipman, cello; Randall Zigler, double bass; Nuiko Wadden, harp; Cory Smythe, piano; Nathan Davis, percussion; Erik Carlson and Adam Sliwinski, conductors

Some of the first music I heard by Keeril Makan was rough, aggressively dissonant, and full of tense and explosive energy. Afterglow, the new release of Makan’s music performed by International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) tones down the savagery and highlights Makan’s control of timbre, color, and gesture. The title track, a solo piano work, obsesses on sympathetic string reactions to simple repeated tones for almost four and a half minutes. As elegantly as Afterglow builds and adds material, part of me wishes that the piece kept that opening texture for the full 14 minute duration. Cory Smythe’s performance truly revels in the stillness and quietness of the resonant strings and the recording makes me yearn to hear the piece live.

Mu, the only other solo work on the disc, is for prepared violin and structured using an open form. Erik Carlson paces the glassy sounds and long notes well and assembles a coherent and engaging performance (although a brief one, only about 3 minutes). Husk, for flute, oboe, and harp, also emphasizes coloristic gestures and resonance over a short time frame. Again, the composition is full of poignant pauses and space to let the harp strings resonate. The woodwind writing is proto-melodic and mostly consists of long sustained tones which shift timbral space between the flute and oboe. As one would expect from ICE, the performance is vibrant.

Three longer chamber ensembles bookend and center this recording. Mercury Songbirds combines more aggressive and spikier arrivals against a subdued and omnipresent piano drone. Becoming Unknown is the most conventionally tuneful work but these melodies are fragmented, twisted, and just as soon as they build any strength they begin to decay away. I was especially drawn to the touches of trumpet in this otherwise woodwind-dominated texture. The final work on the disc, After Forgetting, has in some ways the most expected formal design on the disc which makes it rather unexpected. A constant droned pulse permeates and drives the piece forward while melodic gestures and arrivals fit in, around, and against it. The traditional harmonic touches soften the dissonance a bit and as the pulse fades out the work resumes the haunting beauty found on the rest of the disc. The abrupt final cutoff of the piece took me by surprise; I was convinced it was an error in the recording.  Overall, ICE plays with a spectacular affinity for shape, color, and gesture. Their sound is a perfect fit for Makan’s music.

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whittington cover01

 

Stephen Whittington

 

Zephyr Quartet

 

Cold Blue Music – CB0038

 

 

From Australia comes the premiere recording of Music for Airport Furniture, a new CD by Stephen Whittington and Cold Blue Music. This single track CD is performed by the Zephyr Quartet, an award-winning chamber group from Adelaide.

Given the title of this new Stephen Whittington piece, the classic 1978 Music for Airports by Brian Eno comes immediately to mind. Eno’s piece, incorporating phased loops and various groups of instruments, was an attempt to realize a more thoughtful ambient music for public airport terminals. Music For Airport Furniture, however, is concerned with the human emotions that play out within that space. Both works capture the essential lonely emptiness of the airport waiting lounge, but Music for Airport Furniture places its focus squarely on the human heart. Stephen Whittington describes:

I was interested in the airport departure lounge as an arena for human emotions – boredom, apprehension, despair, loneliness, the tenderness of farewells – all taking place within a bland, often desolate space.”

Whittington’s choice of the string quartet as the vehicle for this piece is inspired, the lush harmonies, intimate sound and wide range of emotional expression are a perfect match to his musical intentions. The familiar sound of the string quartet is reassuring even as the opening notes of Music for Airport Furniture evoke that distinctive feeling of emptiness and regret that we have all felt while waiting for an airline boarding call. The music proceeds in a series of long, warm phrases, offset by the occasional pizzicato arpeggio in the cello. The minimalist texture is both smooth and luxurious and the sustained chords deftly unpack all the many emotions that accompany an extended absence from home and loved ones. The playing of the Zephyr String Quartet is outstanding, investing just the right of emotional content into each extended phrase and never letting the long tones stagnate throughout the 22 minute duration of the piece. We are carried gently and comfortably into a world of emotions we have all experienced.

I found that listening to Music for Airport Furniture also produced a distinct feeling of nostalgia. Here in the US, at least, airports have become so security conscious and the movements of people so controlled that there is no longer the emotional space for the sort of quiet introspection that this piece portrays so well. Sadly, the chaotic nature of air travel nowadays has left little room for the sort of lingering goodbyes that were possible in years past. Even so, Music for Airport Furniture is a masterful realization of the bitter-sweet sadness of farewell.

Stephen Whittington is an active composer and pianist who gave the first Australian performances of the music of Christian Wolff, Terry Riley, James Tenney, Peter Garland, Alan Hovhaness and Morton Feldman, among many others. An extended stay in Southern California in 1987 resulted in a meeting with John Cage and stimulated a new style of composition for Stephen that included elements of minimalism, polystylism and chance procedures. Other artistic interests include poetry and film. Stephen has performed at the Sydney Opera House, the Adelaide International Film Festival and the Vienna International Dance Festival.

The Zephyr Quartet was founded in 1999 and is based in Adelaide. They regularly play at festivals across Australia, have commissioned several new works and are committed to the development and promotion of classical new music.

This CD is available from Cold Blue Music and the release date is September 9, 2013.

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BlackWaterCB0037

 

Jim Fox

Bryan Pezzone

Cold Blue Music – CB0037

 

This is a single track CD consisting of Black Water, a work composed by Jim Fox for three pianos in 1984 and first performed at the New Music America festival the following year. Bryan Pezzone has realized this studio version by recording all three parts.

Those familiar with the music of Jim Fox will find Black Water to be outside of the quiet, introspective style normally associated with the composer. This CD is the first of what is envisioned as a series of recordings of Jim’s earlier works, tracing, according to the liner notes “..a few other somewhat loud and boisterous pieces of mine from the same mid-eighties period…”

Black Water begins with an extended trill setting an energetic pace that builds with each successive wave of notes. There is a sense of strong, fluid motion that is slightly out of control – like a running sea in the dark. The notes roil around each of the piano parts, building in intensity and then setting off again without quite discharging the tension. At 3:30 it suddenly becomes spare and quiet; only a few piano notes dripping from the higher registers but with a swirling undercurrent below, like a river gathering its strength in a quiet stretch. The flow soon picks up again and breaks into another swift-flowing torrent of sound.

Black Water proceeds in this fashion – strong surges  interspersed with quieter sections – but always with a sense of movement in the lower registers. This is exciting music, carrying the listener along in unexpected directions. Black Water could be describing one of our Southern California rain storms – sometimes a blinding downpour and yet with patches of clear sky where just a few raindrops are falling. The contrast between the turbulent and quieter sections of this piece evoke a force of nature, especially in the last 2 minutes which boil like the race of water in a flooded canyon. The final crashing chord hangs in the air, slowly dissipating, to provide a fitting end to this high-powered work.

Bryan Pezzone has done a fine job here – not only managing to get all the notes under his fingertips, but also to integrate the three sections into one cohesive whole. Bryan’s experience in film music and performing in the Green Umbrella Series and with the Los Angeles Philharmonic provides the ideal foundation for playing Black Water.

Jim Fox is familiar name in West Coast new music circles and is also the founder of Cold Blue Music. Black Water adds to his established catalog and will be a contribution to the historical arc of his body of work.

Available from Cold Blue Music, the release date for Black Water is September 9, 2013.

 

Paul H. Muller

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Bright Angel

Kimberly Cole Luevano (Clarinet), Midori Koga (Piano), Lindsay Kesselman (Soprano)

 

Bright Angel: American Works For Clarinet And Piano

 

Fleur De Son

 

FDS 581019

 

 

 

Fleur De Son’s recently released “Bright Angel: American Works For Clarinet And Piano” is an album that does right by new music in this country. It champions important composers who currently enjoy a range of notoriety through amazingly performed works that are strong and indicative of contemporary styles without sacrificing their reverence for tradition. There are two offerings by current big-namers Joan Tower and Libby Larsen and two more by accomplished and ascending Roshanne Etezady and Abbie Betinis whose path to dominance in new music’s near future will only be eased by their triumphant representation on this CD.

 

Of course, at the heart of any recording’s success or faaiure is the tremendous quality of its performers, and “Bright Angel” features three of today’s most fabulously gifted interpreters of contemporary music. Clarinetist Kimberly Cole Luevano and pianist Midori Koga appear throughout the disc, and Soprano Lindsay Kesselman joins them for Ms. Betinis’ song cycle Nattsanger. Their performances are exquisite as is their ensemble chemistry, which is demonstrated in moments like the opening of Ms. Etezady’s Bright Angel, when Ms. Luevano draws her sound out of a high, quartal or quintal harmony in the piano, or in the last movement of Nattsanger, when Ms. Kesselman’s scream of madness emerges from a high, screeching clarinet line.

 

As I alluded before, the pieces on “Bright Angel” are fairly centrist in their style, that is, they are certainly not aesthetically anachronistic, but are also not highly experimental or aggressive. Frankly, every work is extremely appealing, and represents the kind of music I wish could more frequently act as an ambassador of contemporary music to broad audiences. For example, Roshanne Etezady’s Bright Angel (which receives its recording world premiere on this CD) opens the album with warm lyricism and enthralling moments of virtuosity. Inspired by the architectural drawings of nineteenth century American architect Mary Jane Colter, Bright Angel possesses clear musical images of the West, which are conveyed clearly and thoughtfully through the grand tenderness of Ms. Etezady’s musical language.

 

Next up is Abbie Betinis’ Nattsanger (also a world premiere recording), which is a dramatic yet approachable song cycle on Norwegian texts depicting various stages of the night. Nattsanger presents dark, beautiful music that is skillfully orchestrated, namely in the way the clarinet and soprano play off each other’s similar colors and range. The performers are used conventionally with the exception of the fourth and eighth movements, where the texts’ underlying surrealism is most apparent. Here we find the clarinet and soprano used by themselves in a nervous duet (the fourth movement), and the aforementioned scream, which essentially ends the piece (the eighth movement). These are anchors of extremity, both in terms of the music’s expressive force, but also in the work’s symmetrical structure.

 

Joan Tower’s Fantasy (…those harbor lights) and Libby Larsen’s Licorice Stick further underscore the skill and craft of the composers and performers featured on “Bright Angel”. Fantasy is appropriately impulsive in character and mysterious in its expression. The prominence of the clarinet and piano’s roles are constantly shifting as they trade off prominence and, at times, share it – particularly when the musical explodes with energy about a third of the way through, rollicking through winding scales and arpeggios for most of the remaining music. Licorice Stick is less expansive an endeavor as Fantasy but nonetheless powerful. The most extensively aggressive work on the disc, Licorice Stick shows off the clarinet’s flare for bombast by drawing on its heritage as a jazz instrument (I’m about 90% sure there’s a Rhapsody In Blue quote) with pitch bends, trills and screaming altissimo lines. Throughout the shredding clarinet solos, the piano punches through with driving bass lines that make the piece stagger along the way to its loud, stumbling conclusion.

 

“Bright Angel” is available on iTunes, Amazon.com and from Fleur De Son’s website.

 

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Meerenai Shim

 

The Art Of Noise

 

Meerenai Shim

 

ASIN: B00C1BDGNE

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Meerenai Shim’s “The Art Of Noise” is available for purchase from Amazon.com and Ms. Shim’s Bandcamp page.

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TROY1418

David Felder

Inner Sky

Albany Records Blu-ray Audio/CD Troy1418

 

When I wrote about Felder’s flute concerto Inner Sky (1994, rev. 1999)) in a concert review of Tanglewood’s 2011 Festival of Contemporary Music, I mentioned how much I looked forward to hearing the piece again on its (then in preparation) recording. What I didn’t mention at the time: my concern that it would be difficult to capture the many details of the piece on record. Enter blu-ray audio.

 

Indeed, David Felder’s music is perfect to demonstrate the capacities of blu-ray audio. Musical climaxes feature piercingly fierce highs and rumbling lows. Elsewhere, shimmering diaphanous textures, frequently blending electronic and acoustic instruments, surround one immersively in this multi-channel environment. By the way, if one doesn’t have access to blu-ray, the recording package also includes an audio CD.

 

One of the magical things about Inner Sky, not just as a demonstration of an audio platform but as an expertly crafted composition, is the use of register to delineate the structuring of the three main facets of the piece: its solo part, the orchestra, and the electronics. Over the course of Inner Sky, flutist Mario Caroli is called upon to play four different flutes: piccolo, concert flute, alto flute, and bass flute. Moving from high to low, he negotiates these changes of instrument, and the challenging parts written for each of them, with mercurial speed and incisive brilliance. Even though all of the orchestra members are seated onstage, we are also treated to a spatialization of sorts through the frequent appearance of antiphonal passages. This ricochet effect is more than matched by the lithe quadraphonic electronic component. Featuring both morphed flute sounds and synthetic timbres that often respond to the orchestration, it is an equal partner in the proceedings.

 

Tweener (2010) a piece for solo percussion, electronics, and ensemble, features Thomas Kolor as soloist. Kolor is called upon to do multiple instrument duty too, using “analog” percussion beaters as well as a KAT mallet controller. An astounding range of sounds are evoked: crystalline bells, bowed metallophones, electronically extended passages for vibraphone and marimba. The percussionist’s exertions are responded to in kind by vigorous orchestra playing from University of Buffalo’s Slee Sinfonietta Chamber Orchestra, conducted by James Baker. The Slee group flourishes here in powerful brass passages, avian wind writing, and soaring strings. The brass pieces Canzonne and Incendio are also played by UB musicians in equally impressive renditions. These works combine antiphonal writing with a persuasive post-tonal pitch language that also encompasses a plethora of glissandos.

 

The Slee Sinfonietta again, this time conducted by James Avery, gets to go their own way on Dionysiacs. Featuring a flute sextet, the piece contains ominously sultry low register playing, offset by some tremendous soprano register pileups that more than once remind one of the more rambunctious moments in Ives’s The Unanswered Question. What’s more, the flutists get to employ auxiliary instruments such as nose whistles and ocarinas, adding to the chaotic ebullience of the work (entirely appropriate given its subject matter).

 

Clarinetist Jean Kopperud and pianist Stephen Gosling are featured on Rare Airs, a set of miniatures interspersed between the larger pieces. These works highlight both musicians’ specialization in extended techniques and Kopperud’s abundant theatricality as a performer. Pianist Ian Pace contributes the solo Rocket Summer. Filled with scores of colorful clusters set against rangy angular lines and punctuated by repeated notes and widely spaced sonorous harmonies, it is a taut and energetic piece worthy of inclusion on many pianists’ programs.

 

Requiescat (2010), performed by guitarist Magnus Andersson and the Slee Sinfonietta, again conducted by Baker, is another standout work. Harmonic series and held altissimo notes ring out from various parts of the ensemble, juxtaposed against delicate guitar arpeggiations and beautifully complex corruscating harmonies from other corners. Once again, Felder uses register and space wisely, keeping the orchestra out of the guitar’s way while still giving them a great deal of interesting music to play. Written relatively recently, Requiescat’s sense of pacing, filled with suspense and dramatic tension but less inexorable than the aforementioned concerti, demonstrates a different side of Felder’s creativity, and suggests more efficacious surprises in store from him in the future.

 

-Christian Carey

 

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Simon Thacker’s Svara-KantiCD cover

Rakshasa

Slap the Moon Records

Simon Thacker, guitar; Japjit Kaur, voice; Jacqueline Shave, violin; Sarvar Sabri, tabla

  • Thacker – Dhumaketu
  • Osborne – The Five Elements
  • Riley – SwarAmant
  • Korde - Anusvara – 6th Prism
  • Thacker – Svaranjali
  • Thacker – Multani
  • Thacker – Three Punjabi folksongs
  • Thacker – Rakshasa

The rich diversity of musical influences available in this world can yield truly inspired works which weave multiple threads into a single aural “rope” or works which use cursory cultural details out of the desire to sound “exotic.” Happily, Rakshasa is a work in the first category, bringing together musical elements into an attractive musical package.

Thacker’s compositional output on the disc reflects this polycultural synthesis with a delightful blend of traditional sounding Indian music with very Western harmonic progressions. Shave’s violin playing clearly draws from traditional Indian practices but to my ears her sound is only a slight nudge away from American fiddle technique. Kaur’s voice is bright and clean without ever becoming irritatingly nasal. Sabri’s tabla playing is direct, focused, and provides ample forward momentum when present.

As I am not an expert in music of India, I can’t speak much about the traditions surrounding the influences of each composition. The notes provide a wealth of guidance on all of these issues but I never found much need to refer to them in order for specific tracks to make sense. Everything on the disc makes sense as it is and left few questions that led to a need for research.

If I could point to a single track that represents the core of the music, I would choose Thacker’s compositions Svaranjali. The scales and rhythms used throughout this propulsive work are right on the edge of traditional ragas and something you might find on a Bela Fleck album. It isn’t that Thacker has “cleaned up” Indian rhythmic and pitch vocabulary to fit Western classical guitar tradition, Thacker instead draws on elements of both musics to shape a fiery and groovy piece.

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Neither Anvil Nor PulleyCD cover

music of Dan Trueman

performed by So Percussion

Cantaloupe Music

So Percussion: Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting

Neither Anvil Nor Pulley

  1. Another Wallflower [from Long Ago]
  2. 120 bpm [or, What Is Your Metronome Thinking?]
  3. A Cow Call [Please oh Please Come Home!]
  4. Feedback [in Which a Famous Bach Prelude Becomes Ill-Tempered]
  5. Hang Dog Springar [a Slow Dance]

Trueman’s percussion/laptop quartet Neither Anvil Nor Pulley derives its musical core from fiddle tunes and string timbres. While a percussion ensemble might seem like an odd choice of instrumentation for string sounds, So Percussion is the perfect fit for Trueman’s musical ideas. Neither Anvil Nor Pulley is a perfect example of composer/performer collaborations. The score is almost inconsequential in terms of specificity and exactness. Instead, the pages contain a mixture of precision and vagueness which allows So Percussion to inhabit and interpret the piece. Since music notation wasn’t of primary importance to performers in the folk fiddle tradition, it seems wholly appropriate for rote/community learning to be the foundation upon which this album was constructed.

The first, third, and fifth movements are the most true to the fiddle inspiration. Each movement begins with a “drop the needle” on a turntable (a real turntable is needed, even among the four laptops) and So Percussion provides accompaniment and interaction with the recordings. A lot of the instrument choices and dynamic shaping is left up to the performers and So, as always, makes every choice sound like the right one.

The rest of the movements are substantially larger and contain more elaborate drawn-out formal shapes. The second movement, “120 bpm,” transforms through chaotic/structured clicking into sustained string samples being triggered by tether controllers. This transformation is smoothly done and even though I never could have predicted that the movement was headed in that direction the formal shape feels perfectly balanced. “Feedback,” the fourth movement, is a show-stopping aural exploration of the famous G major Prelude from the first cello suite by Bach played via feedback excitation of a concert bass drum. The rhythm of the original piece is stripped away entirely which makes the score seem more like a Schenker sketch of the work then realized over the course of 16 minutes. Philosophically, it reminds me of 9 Beet Stretch or Call Me Maybe slowed down 1000% except this is done acoustically. Again, you might not think of a percussion quartet as the perfect instrumentation for this kind of sonic treatment of the material but So Percussion frequently demonstrates that they make the unexpected sound perfect.

The computer/percussion interaction goes along with the piece’s larger philosophical idea about the man/machine relationship (I’ve been using a lot of slashes in this review, haven’t I? I’ll stop). The computer doesn’t really SHOW the user what it does (as opposed to an anvil or a pulley). In that way, the integration of the laptops within the percussion quartet is extremely well balanced. Just listening, one is never sure if it is “live or Memorex.” And, after following the score, I can say the same confusion holds. Furthermore, this recording is not physically available; downloads only. But Trueman and So have gone the extra mile to make a physical release matter. You can get the recording with a recycled LP, a speaker driver, or even a tether controller like those used in “120 bpm.” Given the amount of creativity and artistic thought that went into the creation and performance of Neither Anvil Nor Pulley, it is encouraging to see the same level of interest go into the packaging of the work.

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