Posts Tagged “New World Records”

The World’s Longest Melody  CD cover art

music of Larry Polansky

various artists

New World Records

  • Ensembles of Note
  • tooaytood 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 11
  • for jim, ben and lou
  • “…getting rid of the glue…”
  • ivtoo
  • The World’s Longest Melody
  • Ontslaan (toontood)
  • toovviivfor
  • 34 Chords (Christian Wolff in Hanover and Royalton)

Various aspects of Larry Polansky’s music are given compelling and nuanced performances on this disc. The opening Ensembles of Note is a funky, rhythmic, semi-controlled improvisation based on a four bar rhythmic germ. When I first heard the disc, I really enjoyed the piece. It is quirky, it grooves, and the formal flow is natural and fluid (a gradual increase in the amount of activity). To my surprise upon reading the notes, the melodic materials are entirely improvised and only the rhythmic ostinato is given. Suddenly, my opinion of the piece and the performance skyrocketed. The ensemble has a wonderfully cohesive feel in their sound as well as to the shape of the piece. The music belongs to the performers as much as it belongs to Polansky and I think that is the right balance for a work that relies so heavily on improvisation.

The tooaytoods are all miniature miniatures (the longest being :24). Originally solo piano works, here they are electric guitar duets. Each tooaytood has its own internal logic, however brief, and each work as perfectly chiseled gems. Could they be developed into longer works? I guess so but I think that would crush their ephemeral beauty and wit.

My favorite composition on the disc is the trio for jim, ben, and lou for guitar, harp, and percussion. Each movement honors a composer important to Polansky’s compositional language (James Tenney, Ben Johnston, and Lou Harrison). Microtonality abounds in the trio and Polansky’s touch with this tonal palette is delicate, expressive, and extremely artful. No note, no matter the clash with other notes, sounds “wrong.” The reverence for these three composers is communicated at a very fundamental level in this trio. Just to contradict myself, the trio has a very light touch, too.  Simple formal structures, such as variation, are masterfully used. I’ve been listening to this piece a lot in the last few weeks. A lot.

The brief guitar solo “…getting rid of the glue…” is in some ways a flashback to how Polansky arrived at the style of these previous, yet more recent, pieces. Sparse pointallistic gestures create a timeless and directionless space. Harmonics, gentle humming, and detuned strings pass through this space created by the work. The next track, ivtoo, then sounds like the direct descendent of “…getting rid of the glue…” and the trio. Toon Callier’s overdubbed acoustic guitars form a cloud of active-yet-directionless harmonies and colors. It is as if a pizzicato fog has descended. The directionlessness is merely an illusion, of course, as the piece slowly and inexorably oozes into more tense and strenuous areas.

The ensemble version of The World’s Longest Melody (also the title of the trio movement dedicated to Lou Harrison but is not the same piece) rings in with epic power chords and drums. One might expect a power rock thrash will emerge but the piece stays fairly tame if that is your expectation. There is a cyclic and periodic repetition of ideas, a non-Western-inspired sense of form, that again has its own compelling logic. Similar temporal logic gets merged with Western harmonies in the next tracks Ontslaan (toontood) and toovviivfor. In Ontslaan (toontood) a very stock sounding chorale of electric guitars quickly gets warped and bent and twisted until almost beyond recognition (keyword: almost). toovviivfor uses a decidedly less comfortable and more abstract harmonic grounding and then proceeds in a similar manner.

Polansky’s musical language is naturally complemented by the guitar. The timbre works well to provide a clarity to his pitch/temperament choices and the resonance (or sustain in the case of the electric guitars) works well to enforce the mood or emotional tone of the pieces. The final track, 34 Chords (Chrisitan Wolff in Hanover and Royalton) is another reverent homage that exploits these facets of the electric guitar to great effect (and affect).

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Charles Dodge

a retrospective (1977 – 2009)

New World Records

It may be unfair to say that the genre of electronic music is one that ignores its history.  Of course that isn’t entirely true, there is always attention paid to the past, rarely does that attention manifest itself in the presentation of music more than ten years old.  Concerts that feature or include electronic music typically showcase the “newest in new” as if anything prior to 2004 is the sonic equivalent of day-old donuts, anything from the 1990s is “quaint” and literature found before 1980 is approached the way a music appreciation class approaches Machaut.

I know this is a brash generalization and a stunning example of hyperbole, but it is rare that the pioneers of electronic music are given much air time in concert halls when compared to acoustic composers who also paved the way for future generations.  And since fixed media pieces lack the element of performer interpretation, there seems to be no need to release a composition more than once.  That the work is available at all seems to be enough.

New World Records does a great service here by releasing a collection of works by the venerable master Charles Dodge.  Dodge, a paragon of the early American pioneers, is someone who made exquisite compositions from the digital equivalent of banging two rocks together.  Most of those early compositions, released on vinyl, haven’t found the larger distribution in part because earlier electronic compositions are not as valued as more contemporary pieces.  Sites like Ubuweb and the now defunct Avantgardeproject.org offer access to earlier experimental electronic recordings.  New World’s commitment to preserving, promoting, and distributing cornerstones of the genre is worthy of praise.

What about the music?  The bulk of the disc is occupied by Dodge’s seminal Cascando, based on the radio play by Samuel Beckett.  Cascando dates from 1977 and makes heavy use of the vocal synth/sampling techniques found in Dodge’s earlier Speech Songs.  Cascando is to Speech Songs, though as Reich’s Drumming is to Clapping Music.  Cascando’s texture is sparse and draws the bulk of its sound world from the speech synthesis engine.  My reaction to the work is similar to my reactions to much of Beckett; I don’t feel a strong narrative arc but I find the events compelling in and of themselves.

New World includes two other more recent compositions alongside the 30 minute Cascando.  Fades, Dissolves, Fizzles for fixed media, from way back in 1995, connects well to the older work and demonstrates a through line in Dodge’s compositional voice.  Fades, Dissolves, Fizzles is built from fairly plain and simple synthetic bell-like timbres.  The event language is similar to Cascando in that there is rarely a counterpoint of ideas.  Dodge favors single events and a slow unfolding of activity.  Fades, Dissolves, Fizzles has quite a bit more pep, though, as the active pseudo-gamelan textures that arise help motivate the narrative and provide formal continuity.  Fades, Dissolves, Fizzles is also strongly concerned with just intonation.  The pure timbre of the synth helps the tuning relationships shine through.

The final composition is the 2009 work Violin Variations for violin and computer, played here by Baird Dodge.  Again, just intonation and the slow unfolding of simple textures are the motivating factors in the construction.  The synth sound is subtly refined from Fades, Dissolves, Fizzles with more overtones and richer sonic fabrics behind each pitch.  The four movements rarely move past a contemplative affect, a faster tempo and pizzicato third movement help break monotony.  Like the other pieces on the disc, I don’t feel a sense of a traditional dramatic narrative but find the work sonically compelling.

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Long Piano (Peace March 11)

Christian Wolff

Thomas Schultz, piano

New World Records

When faced with a work promoting a specific political or ideological slant it can be hard to find the line between art and propaganda.  Christian Wolff’s Long Piano (Peace March 11) definitely falls into the category of a politically-inspired work but the music itself remains austere and carefully detached from its surroundings.  Composed in 2004-2005, this hour long solo piano work is built largely of sparse gestures and thin textures.  The piece is constantly beginning anew and never fully coalesces in any one place for long.  Each fragment has its own internal life and motivations.  Thomas Schultz certainly had his work cut out for him in creating a coherent and linear performance of a work that is almost anything but.  Schultz is displaying a type of virtuosity that goes beyond pounding volumes and rapid arpeggios.

Never still enough to be ambient yet not directed enough to contain a typical emotional through line, Long Piano seems set on an eternal simmer.  It still manages to make you pay attention to it and simply hear its sound.

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September Canons

music of Ingram Marshall

performed by Todd Reynolds, Members of the Yale Philharmonia, The Berkley Gamelan, and Ingram Marshall

New World Records


September Canons for violin and electronic processing
Peaceable Kingdom for ensemble and tape
Woodstone for gamelan
The Fragility Cycles (“Gambuh”) for gambuh, synthesizer, and live electronic processing


The four works on this disc span the career of composer Ingram Marshall and provide keen insights into the organic, intuitive, and expressive sides to Marshall’s output.  September Canons, from 2002, draws its inspiration from September 11 and features floating and mournful lyricism from violinist Todd Reynolds.  The composition and performance have a timelessness about them.  Everything unfolds at a slow yet deliberate pace with a certain amount of serene detachment.

Peaceable Kingdom (1990) blends a live ensemble with various atmospheric and musical recordings with excellent results.  The audio narrative and interaction of live and recorded sounds are constantly compelling.  Inspired by travels to Yugoslavia, one key motif is a recorded funeral procession and other sounds evocative of a funeral in a small village.  I began repeated listenings of the work without knowing any programmatic details and was simply draw into the sonic world of the piece.  The mixture of ambient/natural sounds and obviously recorded music makes for interesting interplay with the live ensemble.  Many times the ensemble mixture with the recorded events was such that I wasn’t sure if they were “live or Memorex,” if you will.

Woodstone, a play on the title and theme of Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata, is an engrossing work for gamelan.  The delicate and sparse opening morphs into more active and driving material that still keeps a slow yet steady pace towards its growth.  This work does not sound like Beethoven nor does it sound like traditional gamelan music.  It is pure Marshall.  Like all other works on the disc, this piece grows organically and with a sense of long-term transformations.

The last work on the disc is also the earliest (Woodstone was completed in 1981).  The Fragility Cycles (“Gambuh”) was finished in 1976 and sets the composer in a cloud of Balinese flute playing, Serge synthesizer sweeps, and live electronics.  The rich flute tones and the droning synthesizer paint a foggy and abstract aural picture.  There is a sensuousness to the sounds and a depth of timbral space that is plumbed throughout the work.  In keeping with the other compositions included with this one, The Fragility Cycles sounds as if it could last forever.  I certainly wouldn’t mind.

This reverse chronology highlights some of the core values present in the works of Ingram Marshall: longer compositions, often centered around a very limited sonic palette, but manipulated and paced with a keen and crafty ear.  The sounds put me in a very specific and contemplative mental space.  I enjoy this disc, this music, and what it does to me very much.  If you are unfamiliar with Ingram Marshall’s music, this is an excellent first step.  If you are familiar with Marshall’s compositions, you probably already own this.

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