Posts Tagged “tzadik”

AmericansCD cover art

music of Scott Johnson

various performers

Tzadik

  • Americans
  • The Illusion of Guidance
  • Bowery Haunt
  • Anthem Hunt

performed by: Kermit Driscoll, electric bass; Scott Johnson, electric guitar; Michael Lowenstern, clarinets; Mary Rowell, viola; Greg Chudzik, bass; David Cossin, marimba, percussion; Mark Dancigers, electric guitar; John Ferrari, drums; Stephen Gosling, piano; Derek Johnson, electric guitar; Liviu Onchoi, sampled voice; Taimur Sullivan, saxophones; Ken Thomson, clarinet; Shekaiba Wakili, sampled voice; Alex Waterman, cello; Janet Xiong, sampled voice

Scott Johnson’s Americans is a large pseudo-rock ensemble work punctuated by the sampled voices of various American immigrants. The rhythmic cells found in the voices are woven into the ensemble for an effect that is best described as “Zappaesque.” The compositional techniques are similar to Johnson’s “How It Happens” featuring the sampled voice of I. F. Stone but ramped up with more aggressive and driving features. The ensemble playing is tight and at first listening I thought the composition was for fixed media a la Noah Creshevsky. I am much more impressed knowing that the ensemble is live and that only the voices are sampled. I found my own listening to gravitate towards the voices, which I think is natural, so I found some difficulty with the through-line of the second movement (the narrator of which speaks Romanian). The final movement, featuring the voice of an Afghan-American talking about her internal schism about going to war in Afghanistan, makes for a poignant and subdued ending.

The last three compositions are all pure instrumental chamber works featuring electric guitar is some way, shape, or form. The Illusion of Guidance keeps a tight reign on its motivic materials. The clarinet often comes across as the primary melodic voice but Johnson uses the blend between the electric guitar and the high clarinet register to keep the timbres alive and kicking. Rhythms are spiky, driving, but never devolve into a frivolous groove. Bowery Haunt and Anthem Hunt are two excellent examples for what composers can and should be doing with their rock heritage. Each piece uses steady rhythms, electric guitar timbres, and power chords but neither piece does anything trite or cliched with these elements. If I were to describe these as a sommelier, I’d say something like “Delightfully post-minimalist/totalist, still lyrical, with notes of King Crimson.” These works, and the disc as a whole, are prime examples of well-crafted music that speaks to the moment. Scott Johnson isn’t creating pieces that use contemporary flavors simply on the surface. There is compositional craft knitting each piece together and some fantastic performances to boot.

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The Twilight of the Gods

Hyperrealist Music by Noah Creshevsky

Tzadik

There is very little about this disc that tells you what it is.  Even when listening to The Twilight of the Gods you will still question what exactly is going on and what composer Noah Creshevsky has done and how he managed to do it.  Is this electronic music?  Yes, but not so’s you’d notice.  What is the  style?  How do you categorize this music?  You don’t.  The composer’s term hyperrealist is the only thing that could apply.  So what is this disc?  Noah Creshevsky’s music is electronic but reliant upon totally acoustic sound sources which are cut, spliced, and reassembled into extreme moments and gestures.  Imagine Negativland on meth or if Girl Talk used recordings of the Arditti Quartet and Elliott Carter.  And klezmer.  Creshevsky takes the source recordings of quite a menagerie of music, shreds them into highly-focused and taut strings, then weaves them back together into a sonic mesh.

The amazing thing about this music is that, paradoxically, very little of it sounds artificial.  Each moment is woven together with such precision and nuance that the overt synthetic nature is almost completely obfuscated.  These could be piece played by real people in real time.  They aren’t.  Creshevsky displays a tremendous level of craft in the mixing and editing in addition to the musical craft of creating mood and tone.  This isn’t music you can make or experience any other way than via recording.  The delicious dichotomy of Creshevsky’s brash aural falsehoods and his ability to make everything SOUND “real” should spark a lot of further debate on whether ANY recording can be anything but false.  What makes it all even more compelling is that even when you know the joke, when you know how this magician is doing his tricks, you still sit, baffled, while the music plays.

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