Posts Tagged “Cold Blue Music”
Cold Blue Music
Cold Blue Music has released a new single-track CD, Ecstatic Descent, by Australia-based composer Erik Griswold. This is 40 minutes of extraordinary music for prepared piano that extends the technique beyond that of the influential John Cage. Combined with a style of playing based on rhythmic clusters, the result is an impressive work that explores new horizons of tone color and textural density in a singularly satisfying way.
Griswold describes his innovative piano preparation scheme as follows: “Generally, the white keys are treated with timbral preparations such as paper, rubber, or a screw at a harmonic [node]. These change the tone color but not the pitch. The black keys are treated with double preparations, such as bolts, screws and cardboard strips. These change the tone color and lower the pitch. By sliding the preparations along the length of the strings I can fine-tune to pitches in the prevailing key, always listening for the most interesting harmonic and inharmonic resonances.”
The initial purpose for piano preparation as practiced by Cage was for the enhancement of the percussive component in his music to accompany dance – the sharper sounds from his prepared piano provided a more precise beat and sharper rhythm for the dancers. By comparison, Griswold has designed his piano preparation to expand the harmonic and timbral possibilities of the instrument.
Griswold explains rhythmic clustering as follows: “… Ecstatic Descent follows a strict and slowly unfolding structure. I start with the top four pitches of the piano. Each minute I add another four to five pitches, moving to the left, or downwards across the instrument. Each time a new cluster of pitches is added, I have to alter my performance technique to maintain the same intensity in the texture.”
All of this produces a marvelously organic feel as the starting notes evoke visions of water trickling down a small rivulet or brook. As the pitches move lower, there is a sense that the flow is growing stronger. Each change in tone creates a vivid new experience in timbre and sonority, attesting to the thoroughness and care of Griswold’s preparation.
This transformation in the sound of the piano is unexpectedly delightful and the rapid pattern of notes is very much like watching a waterfall – there is the same sense of dynamic movement and stasis. The playing is active and always in motion, with the many individual notes building into a complete picture in the style of a pointillist painting. Even with the continuing flood of notes, there is a peaceful and natural feel to this combined, at times with a strong sense of the exotic. As the piece reaches the middle and lower registers, an air of depth and mystery is added.
At the midpoint, Ecstatic Descent shifts from a continuous stream of sounds to a series of short bursts, followed by silence. All of the pitches remain active and after each short cluster is heard, the tones are allowed to ring out and decay. This changes the feeling from free-flowing and primal to a more introspective, metaphysical sensibility. The space afforded by the silence allows for a brief moment of contemplation and imparts a sense of purpose that is very moving. Some five minutes from the end, the prepared piano strings are struck by a small mallet that changes the tone color and timbre yet again. The notes become thinner and sharper, almost needle-like in their precision. At this point the sounds seem to be coming from some combination of Asian instruments and not from anything like a piano. At length the phrases become softer and less frequent, ultimately drifting away at the finish.
Ecstatic Descent is an inspired work based on an innovative approach to that most conventional of instruments. Without melody, harmony or beat, Erik Griswold has managed to create powerful music that connects with both the natural with the spiritual.
Ecstatic Descent (CB0047) is available directly from Cold Blue Music, Amazon, iTunes and other music retailers.
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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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In the Sea of Ionia
Southern California composer Daniel Lentz has a new CD of piano music, titled In the Sea of Ionia, recently released by Cold Blue Music. Los Angeles pianist Aron Kallay performs all four pieces on this album, totaling over an hour of accessible and inviting music.
The opening track is 51 Nocturnes and this begins with a series of descending chords and a light melody that immediately puts the listener at ease. Arpeggios in the bass appear, accompanied by a simple melody that seems to float above. Now stronger chords are heard in the middle registers with counterpoint below. The simple melody returns briefly, turning gently to introspection. By 4:20 there is a darker feel but this soon turns lighter again. 51 Nocturnes proceeds in this way with short bursts of different colors and textures; sometimes dramatic, sometimes mysterious, sometimes energetic but always returning to a warm, inward-looking sensibility. The playing of Aron Kallay has just the right touch for each of the many moods here and he sustains the last chord of the piece for exactly the right amount of time.
The second track is Pacific Coast Highway and this opens with an intriguing series of steady rhythms played against each other, suggesting the flow of traffic along an open highway. Some lovely harmonies are heard as the different melody lines interact. In one section there is a stronger feel, like the surf pounding on the beach – a feature that actually occurs along some sections of the roadway. A strong sense of motion and journey are evident in Pacific Coast Highway and this piece nicely evokes the iconic Southern California experience.
Dorchester Tropes follows, a work that was commissioned by Dr. Richard Marcus, a resident of Dorchester, Massachusetts thus giving the Santa Barbara-based Lentz the opportunity for an extended visit and some New England inspiration. The piece consists of four movements, the first of which is titled Messatossec. This has a dramatic opening that turns delicate with some lovely textures and tones. There is a pleasant feel to this, with a definite sense of home and place.
Ponkapoag Bog is the second movement and opens with a quiet, pleasing melody that soon gives way to a faster, more animated section providing a lively contrast. A precisely played syncopation adds to the sense of lightness and joy between the more peaceful stretches. Strong chords and a low rumbling texture appear as well, but the piece always circles back to the inviting and welcoming.
Moswetuset, the third movement, begins with a series of arpeggios underneath a relaxing melody. This is appealing music, drawing the listener into its circle of light and warmth. At 2:30 the notes are falling like a series of spring raindrops, full of optimism. A somewhat more dramatic sound follows with strong chords, as if watching a late afternoon sunset. The tempo slows and the piece tapers off to a settled finish.
The final movement of Dorchester Tropes is Pocapawnet and this has a a series of forceful chords heard in an almost dance-like rhythm. The syncopated melody bounces happily along until a smoother, more elegant section appears, followed by more syncopation. There is a sense of expressiveness and joy that comes through both the playing and the notes.
The final piece on the CD is the title track, In the Sea of Ionia. This has a gentle, languid opening that turns suddenly rapid, full of movement with syncopated lines weaving joyfully back and forth. The slow, drifting feeling soon returns, like a lazy summer day at the beach. Now faster again, with a happy, energetic feel – good control in the playing here. As with 51 Nocturnes, In the Sea of Ionia oscillates between purposeful intensity and leisurely relaxation. Sometimes it evokes a soft summer rain or a quiet, reflective moment and at other times it is a joyful gallop The harmonies and rhythms compliment each other nicely in each of the various sections and the playing is both accurate and heartfelt. The final three minutes feel like a dash headlong down to the sea, and this is wonderfully played by Aron Kallay.
This CD is a lovely collection of accessible and engaging music that draws the listener in with welcoming sounds.
In the Sea of Ionia (CB0042) is available from Cold Blue Music.
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Michael Jon Fink
From a Folio
Cold Blue Music
From Los Angeles-based Cold Blue Music comes a new CD by Michael Jon Fink titled From a Folio, featuring Derek Stein on cello and the composer at the piano. Michael Jon Fink has a distinguished 30+ year career as a composer and his music has been performed at the Green Umbrella series of new music concerts by the Los Angeles Philharmonic as well as a number of other venues and festivals throughout the United States and Europe. The long arc of his composing career has allowed Michael Jon Fink to refine his style of understated eloquence through simple musical materials, and From a Folio is a fine example of just how much this can achieve.
All of the tracks on this CD are short – running from two to a little over three minutes. All but one of the tracks use the same combination of spare piano rhythms accompanied by the cello. The first track, Invocation, is typical – the piano provides a steady, purposeful line of single notes in a rising, repeating sequence. The cello follows the piano, but in an unexpected register – high but not shrill – and the cello ends each passage on a sustained tone that compliments piano figure. This simple structure is unhurried and restful. Good control of intonation and pitch by Derek Stein is critical – the cello is almost never heard in its lower, warmer ranges.
Heiroglyph is next and this has a more mysterious feeling in the piano passages. The rhythms are a series of straightforward, deliberate notes. The cello follows with soft, sustained tones that add to the enigmatic atmosphere. Melos follows and here the piano weaves its line of single notes around very simple cello tones. More complexity is heard in the piano as this piece unfolds, but by the finish it has resumed its restrained character.
Aftersong, on track 4, is a completely different piece consisting of just the cello in a series of slow, dramatic tones that have been recorded separately but are heard together in this track. This has a sense of lonely isolation and is played with great feeling by Derek Stein who also performs with Gnarwhallaby and wildUp, two Los Angeles groups known for a much more animated and energetic sound – this CD is evidence of a softer, more introspective side to his playing.
The remaining tracks – From a Folio, Over and Exit – return to the original combination of piano and cello. From a Folio, track 5, suggests a questioning feel in the quiet piano chords. The cello answers by way of single, sustained tones that are masterfully infused with emotion. Over is a more solemn piece, with a tinge of sadness. Exit, the last track, opens with a series of luminous piano notes that seem to hang suspended in the air. The cello shortly picks up the same notes, sustaining them while the piano replies in quiet counterpoint. The cello, again in a high register, repeats the opening theme as the piano adds a few short arpeggios. The solitary sound of the cello plays out as the track concludes.
From a Folio is the perfect title for this CD. Each piece is one of a series of brilliant jewels as if cut from the same stone. From a Folio by Michael Jon Fink is music that is simple, yet essential – an elegant vessel of deep expression.
From a Folio CB0039, is available from Cold Blue Music starting October 14, 2014
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Cold Blue Two
Adams, Bryars, Cox, Fink, Fox, Garland, Lentz, Marshall, Miller, Polansky, Rosenboom, Schroeder, Smith, Tenney
Cold Blue Music
Cold Blue Music, the landmark recording label that features minimalism and post-minimalist music centered on the West Coast, has issued a new CD collection containing previously unreleased works by fourteen artists. A sequel to Cold Blue (the anthology) , Cold Blue Two maintains the high standards set by the first CD. With such artists as Daniel Lentz, Ingram Marshal, John Luther Adams, James Tenney, Jim Fox and others, Cold Blue Two stands as a valuable benchmark of the state of early 21st century music. The tracks on this CD are accessible yet evocative, warm, introspective and often profound – it is the ideal collection for the new music enthusiast or for those listening to serious contemporary music for the first time.
With fourteen short pieces by fourteen separate artists it is impossible to comment at length on all the tracks, but here are some observations on a few that caught my ear.
Celli – Daniel Lentz (2008)
Written for a single cello but with the solo lines overdubbed, this piece produces a lovely layered sound – warm and welcoming. Long, well-crafted tones. Introspective, with just the right amount of sentimentality – almost nostalgic. Produces the feeling of summing up that you get while watching a beautiful sunset. A strong work to lead off this CD.
Sometimes the Sword of Seven – Chas Smith (2008)
Composed specifically for this CD and realized electronically utilizing a steel guitar and Hammond organ as sources, this piece is a series of layered scale-like sounds that grow ominously in density and complexity. The tension increases as the pitches move upward – like a jet engine revving up – culminating in a sudden crash of chords that slowly decay while a church bell-like ringing creeps into the foreground – a very effective resolution.
Sky with Four Suns – John Luther Adams (2010)
A piece written to evoke the various phenomena of the low arctic sun as it interacts with ice crystals in the air to form halos, arcs, sun-dogs and mirages of multiple suns. This piece opens with long, low cello chords to create a warm sense of place, almost like being at sea on a calm day. The higher strings add to the welcome. The feel is anything but forbidding or bleak, as the subject might imply, but rather there is a sense of calm and reassurance. The bassoon trill towards the end reinforces the pastoral motif. An unexpectedly lush vision of the Alaskan environment.
Mallets in the Air – James Tenney (2002)
Here is a piece that adds an important historical connection to its musical virtues. Just intonation, combined with the Harry Partch diamond marimba and a string quartet produce this satisfying mix of drone and fast-moving, propulsive rhythms.
Eskimo Lullaby – Larry Polansky (2006)
A quiet, almost conventional piece written for the Lou Harrison Just Intonation Resonator Guitar. Organic, natural sounding and familiar – like folk music. Gentle and serene with excellent vocals. Try this one out on friends who are suspicious of alternate tunings.
In addition to those mentioned above, other artists appearing on Cold Blue Two are Gavin Bryars, Rick Cox, Michael Jon Fink, Peter Garland, Read Miller, David Rosenboom, and Phillip Schroeder.
Cold Blue Two is a compelling collection of contemporary music that is unified by quiet surfaces yet contains strong, flowing passions that will connect with any serious, inquisitive listener.
Further info at Cold Blue Music, here.
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