Stations of the Breath
music for Disklavier and others
The Code International
- Connecticut Nocturne, Moon over Mudge Pond
- Like Powder to the Light
- The Ceremony of Souls (with Dave Eggar, cello)
- Stations of the Breath
- The Ghost of Juniper Ledge (Ned McGowan, contrabass flute)
When I first received this disc of Steve Horowitz’s music for Disklavier, my initial assumption was that the music would be thick and heavy, taking advantage of the complexity that human performers cannot readily achieve but a Disklavier can manage quite easily. The titles of the tracks, though, seemed in direct conflict with Nancarrow/Gann-style rhythmic shenanigans. Much to my surprise, the music on the disc is much more meditative, expansive, and considerably less dense than I assumed. The end result is music that defies its mechanical creation. The moods, shapes, and gestures sound as if a human being is performing. The only giveaway, to my ears, is the thinner and slightly tinny quality of the Disklavier’s timbre.
So what, you might ask, is the point? Why use technology when you don’t have to? It is a question that I’m sure will keep coming up. The bottom line, though is that my ears don’t want to hear technology. They want to hear music. This disc is certainly far more concerned with making music than flexing any technological muscles. Unplayable passages may be few and far between but effective and enjoyable music abounds.
The opening track is a glimmering nocturne that evokes its mood in gentle swaths of harmonies and gestures. The music is filled with tonal inflections which are far from derivative harmonies but still coherent and leading. Like Powder to the Light is a jagged and playful toccata reminiscent at times to Bartok rhythms with hints of Nancarrow’s boogie-woogie or Crawford-Seeger’s mixed accents.
The Ceremony of Souls, cowritten by cellist Dave Eggar, again draws on gestures and colors rather than straight ahead motives or melodies. A long, solemn cello line exists in spite of the spastic and punchy piano chords. As the piece unfolds, a relationship between the two instruments emerges. The piano punches start to lock in with the cellist’s line and gradually the two morph into one with the cello ending up in the piano’s original hectic and wild realm.
Stations of Breath is a slow, expansive work that seems as if it could go on forever. The harmonies and timing sound natural and fluid, as if the work was always playing somewhere and this CD represents a mere slice of the eternal. The Ghost of Juniper Ledge is similar to Stations of Breath in many ways. The timeless quality is shared but the harmonic language is thinner and events are much more sparse. The contrabass flute is not competing with or working at cross purposes with the piano, the two instruments are one. The music simply hangs in the air. I find these last two tracks the most compelling on the disc. They are the least technological but musically the most affective. The moods are straightforward, the ideas are right on the surface, and the execution is well worth experiencing.