Mp3 Blog #47: A Medium Ping

Roger Reynolds:
”Ping” (1968)

For Piano, percussion, flute, 35 mm slide projections, 16 mm film by the composer, quadraphonic electronic sounds, and live electronic processing

Performed by Roger Reynolds, Karen Reynolds, and Hiroshi Kumagi

Available on this compact disc of three works by Roger Reynolds

Iancu Dumitrescu
”Medium III” (1983)

For solo contrabass

Performed by Fernando Grillo

Available on the Edition Modern 1001 compact disc

* * * * *

To me, both of these works seem to come at the ears from some sort of distant unknown enigmatic viscous bubbling world and draw you near with some unmistakable magnetic pull.

After hearing and reading a lot of Roger Reynold’s more recent works I first came to “Ping” expecting something similar to the post-dodecaphonic shattered hyper-structuralist esthetic that I had come to know in compositions like “Whispers Out of Time,” “Personae,” “Variations,” and “The Angel of Death.” However, the nearly perfectly prolonged bowed gongs in the beginning of “Ping” immediately signaled a different approach. Not to give away the surprises of what I’ve read to be improvised instrumental playing, but I think that the long approach to “Ping’s” horrifying and dramatic climax is one of my favourite stretches of time in Roger Reynold’s music. It’s kind of a shame that the work meanders for so long afterwards although I’m sure that piece loses a lot when missing its visual component.

Embarrassingly, it took me about four listens to realize that this Dumitrescu piece is for solo contrabass. Without reading the information beforehand I initially presumed that it was for an ensemble of at least two percussionists who bow gongs and two contrabasses. Now that I know this work is only for contrabass, I find it far more impressive. Also, since I’ve worked with a number of contrabass players and come to know how difficult it can be to write for this typically heavy and lugubrious instrument, I find the fact this work is alternatively so dramatic and contemplative to be quite a feat.

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