Naxos has a spate of exciting releases coming out, including recordings of works by Carter, Wuorinen, Coates, and Hersch, all of which will be covered in subsequent columns. Today’s posting focuses on their recently released new music sampler.

Various Artists

Sonic Rebellion


Want to familiarize yourself or your loved ones with modern classical music, but not sure where to begin? Sonic Rebellion, a compilation of excerpts from Naxos recordings, is an excellent single disc starter kit. The CD features composers in most of the main stylistic idioms prevalent in recent times: modernism, minimalism, aleatory, neo-romanticism, and even electronic music. Naxos is to be applauded for selecting a nice balance of compositions — both watershed works as well as several pieces that aren’t by the “usual suspects.”

Highlights include Conlon Nancarrow’s Toccata for Violin and Player Piano, a lively piece featuring rhythmically complex music that doesn’t take itself too seriously. At the other end of the spectrum is Krysztof Penderecki’s moving string orchestra piece Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, which employs clusters of sounds in a pileup of dissonances, signifying a long woe-filled keening. Jorgen Plaetner’s Beta bridges the gap between avant-garde electronic compositions and popular electronica. A portion of Charles Wuorinen’s Second String Quartet asserts the enduring vitality both of modernist post-tonality and the traditional chamber music milieu.

Of course, the bits and pieces here are not enough to give a thorough grounding in the music of our time. Hopefully, the CD will inspire listeners to dig further, in the process gaining greater appreciation for the abundant and diverse riches available in contemporary concert music.

32 thoughts on “Naxos’ Sonic Revolution”
  1. Hello I am Simon Atkinson of Christchurch of New Zealand
    When is Naxos going to put out a cd of music by Iannis Xenakis on the Naxos lable.
    I thought they would have done this within the last few years.
    He is one major classical composer yet to be on a Naxos cd.
    This MUST happen soon.
    The conductor Jean-Claude Casadesus I think is the ideal Naxos conductor for recording the music of Iannis Xenakis because he has performed it before.
    Many thanks from Simon Atkinson

  2. Unfortunately I do not have the entire world of new music at my fingertips. I indeed had to rely on the Naxos catalog and the kindness of a few of our distributed labels, this enabled me to keep the retail price of the collection at 3.99 so as to be affordable and an item that one might pick up out of curiocity (which seems to be working). I could have spent LOTS of money on licensing tracks from the outside…this however would have forced a much higher cost which wasnot so interesting to me. Anyhow I think that Naxos and it’s label family have some grear catalogs and the SR collection does indeed show this while also offering some very important pieces (Threnody, Fratres, In-C, etc) which are a great starting point for anyone interested. The next volume will dig a little deeper.

  3. I’m not particularly concerned with the cover, as some seem to be. Or it’s level of punk-ness. I just find it odd that nobody’s really had much to say about what’s inside the dang thing.

    In contrast to Corey’s opinion that they may as well have titled the disc “Not Yer Daddy’s Post-Serialism” – um, well… this is yer daddy’s post-serialism.

    Now, seriously – whose idea was it to use the word rebellion (grr!!) to describe a disc of works primarily by composers… born in the 1920s and 30s?

    (Although I suppose in that context, the Twombly-being-attacked-by-Pollock cover art makes perfect sense…)

    Nothing wrong with any of them, mind you – maybe Sonic Rebellion II can be subtitled Songs of Johnny Reb and Billy Yank and feature the music of Stephen Foster and Louis Moreau Gottschalk.

    But even taking them in historical context, with few exceptions (Nancarrow, Riley, Cage maybe a couple others…) none of them strike me as being particularly far outside the establishment, if at all. “Rebellion” suggests going against the grain, consequences be damned. “Rebellion” suggest DIY. “Rebellion” suggests a big, fat middle finger.

    Johnny Yuma, y’know? Not tenure track at Rutgers…

  4. Collin, just out of curiosity, is the store ear x-tacy in Louisville, KY included in your list of stores. They are an independent music store, and having a decent “classical” section (though it’s decreased in size over the years).

  5. Indeed I do know we’ve reached some of what we were looking for through the sales at the indie coalition stores (CIMS and AIMS groups of independent music retailers), these groups include some of my favorite stores in the country, we’ve reached a phase with them where I’m in the process of creating a special vinyl 12″ to sell exclusively at these independents (this will include pieces by Penderecki, Coates, Cage, and Varese, pieces I would have LOVED to have had to mix in a set…they asked for this exclusive piece…I consider this to be a nice victory for the project.

  6. P.S. How about if it’s called “Classical Sh**storm?” That edgy enough for everyone?

    ooo, i might have to steal that one from you! that’s absolutely hysterical…

    whether it works for someone or not depends upon thier own personal asthetic I would think.

    well, that’s pretty much true about everything across the board. i always bring lots of salt to this particular forum, so to speak. but the more i look at the cover, i realize that i find it simply boring. it doesn’t have to be punky or edgy or whatever, but it should grab somehow, and it’s not doing that for me. good design is a tough thing. but good luck with the project — do you naxos folks have any method for following up on your plan to entice folks to this cd? as in, how do you know you’ve reached your target audience?

  7. So what if someone can’t say anything past “beautiful” and “amazing” about something that they truly enjoy…perhaps not everyone is a freaking wordsmith. I don’t think that gives anyone the right to say that the kids only enjoy the music for “shallow reasons” the matter of fact…who cares what reasons they enjoy it for as long as they’re getting something…anything..out of it! I certainly don’t give a damn. Bottom line: If hipsters, choads, old farts, soccer moms, bus drivers or sunday school teachers come away with a positive experience from Sonic Rebellion then what the hell, it’s worth it. P.S. How about if it’s called “Classical Sh**storm?” That edgy enough for everyone?

  8. “If hipsters want to seek out classical music, they will, but it will almost always be for shallow reasons. I speak from experience….”

    Corey, I can’t let this comment of yours pass unanswered.

    At the Washington Project for the Arts — starting in 1981 — the then bookstore artist/manager Skuta Helgason mixed his new and experimental music inventory of ‘Throbbing Gristle, Hafler Trio, Nurse with Wound, MB, and Cabaret Voltaire’ with Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, Arvo Part, Stockhausen, Reich, Glass, Adams, Ashley, and the other New Albion and Lovely Music artists championed by the New Music Distribution Service. That was the 1980s new music “ideology” also behind John Rockwell’s ‘All American Music’ and the NEA’s decade-long, nation-wide ‘New Music America’ funding; and it led to such real-time cultural developments as the New York City Opera commissioning jazz musician/composers Anthony Davis and Leroy Jenkins [and the MET Opera ‘commissioning’ Rufus Wainwright today] and Paul Dresher and Steven Mackey playing their electric-guitar concertos across the country [and Laurie Anderson playing her electric/art violin works across the country].

    It also led to the San Francisco Symphony’s American Mavericks Festival in about 2000; as well as the current ‘hipster/foodie’ programming of such otherwise largely-upscale presenting organizations as, locally, the Washington Performing Arts Society.

    I too speak ‘from experience’ when I say that it was possible to introduce the Washington Project for the Arts hipster [largely punk, and experimental visual and performance arts] scene of Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire lovers to Birtwistle’s ‘Mask of Orpheus’, Boulez’s ‘Repons’, and Part, Gorecki, and Subotnick; as well as to Diamanda Galas and Reich, Glass, Adams, and M. Monk.
    Some hipster scene members even attended the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for their first times, as when experimental Peter Sellars managed to get the Culture Palace to host several free showings of Meredith Monk’s haunting “Quarry,” or Robert Wilson’s “Medea” with music of Gavin Bryars.

    I will continue to believe that orchestras and chamber groups will attract hipper and younger (and equally bright, if not brighter) audiences when they program Arvo Part’s or Witold Lutoslawski’s Symphonies #3, or John Corigliano’s or Christopher Rouse’s Symphonies #2 [or the programming championed by Alarm Will Sound or the Great Noise Ensemble]; and that the younger components of these alternative classical audiences will not be attending at all for “shallow reasons”.

  9. Corey – it saddens me that you make such generalizations about a group of individuals – its incredibly insulting and close-minded. For this reason I can’t take your criticism seriously. Andrea, thank you for your insight. I can’t say that we were going for a ‘punk’ style specifically. In all honestly, the resurgence of ‘punk’ style design (for me at least) is cliché and simply a poor attempt to recreate something that cannot have the same effectiveness it did when it was first created in the 70’s and early 80’s. The current SR artwork was meant to evoke a sense of beauty and chaos through form, color and line. Some say it was successful – others not so much – but that is true with any design. Anyway, the upcoming second edition of Sonic Rebellion is taking a more minimal, bare and simplistic look.

  10. So all the folks this reaches out to would be considered “hipsters”??? I certainly don’t and can’t adhere to this type of cynicism. I don’t think EVERYONE needs to approach any form of music for specific reasons, if one can find beauty with even limited understanding it is still beauty and still an honest and important reaction.

  11. I came into classical music from “experimental” music too, and I understand what you’re trying to accomplish. I still don’t like it. You may have well as titled the disc “Not Yer Daddy’s Post-Serialism”.

    If hipsters want to seek out classical music, they will, but it will almost always be for shallow reasons. I speak from experience. When I was first entering into the world of classical music I found most of them had a very superficial understanding, never being able to say anything about the music other than “beautiful”, or “amazing”.

  12. I received the promotional packet as a radio person, and I have to admit, I wasn’t immediately blown away (just being honest).

    Looking at the CD right now, I am a little more open to the presentation, while wholly supporting the music and the concept.

    Maybe you could get Marilyn Manson to be on the cover. JK, but that shows how out of touch I am with “youth.”

  13. It was intentional to not make it all “Punky” for many of the pieces are simply slices of musical beauty (much like many pieces in the post punk era were when reacting to the climate). It was more about creating something different with a combination of beauty and chaos, whether it works for someone or not depends upon thier own personal asthetic I would think.

  14. SOUND and the composition of it is not always about sophistication, musch of it is gutteral reaction or simple induction and subtraction. Important nonetheless. Of course in this scenerio both in the new and the old absence of sound is equally as important. I look at things as buidling blocks of knowledge and influence, things always bounce of other things whether known or unknown the thier creator. Complexity I feel is a myth or tool that tries to create separation in many ways. Violence and drama are as important as silence and calm.

  15. i agree with corey: even without the rose & violin, it still isn’t punky enough. you want in this instance for people to judge the book by its cover. try a large blue laughing horse with a gold tooth. oh, wait…

  16. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised, and I don’t know every noise/experimental electronic guy, that parallel evolution happened. I’m never surprised when I talk to some young ‘un who’s never heard of X or Stockhausen, etc. This stuff really just isn’t that complex. It’s masses of sound and they move in often obvious ways, towards density, away from density; the drama is often very violent and very obvious.

    I’m just suggesting that we often give the old guys too much credit for new music. Their sonic discoveries were inevitable and often simplistic. It’s the piece that is or isn’t sophisticated.

  17. I had EVERY intention of including a Xenakis piece on the SR collection however Naxos has none in the catalog and the label that had the piece I wanted to use would not clear it…I’m hoping they have a change of heart for vol. II.

  18. “Xenakis …”

    I’ve always wondered why Iannis Xenakis’s beautiful, fairly short “Nuits” has not been included on contemporary music samplers. [Though Alex Ross does, in fact, properly credit Xenakis in his recommended 30 recordings of 20th century music, at the back of his new book].

    And I’d welcome a short work or movement from Witold Lutoslawski (also recommended by Mr Ross); as well as Laurie Anderson’s “Slip Away” and a piece by Laetitia Sonami …


    I apologize for misspelling Michael Hersch’s last name above.

  19. EXACTLY Sean. I entered “new music” at the same time I was discovering bands like Throbbing Gristle, Hafler Trio, Nurse with Wound, MB, Cabaret Voltaire, and so many others. NONE of this music would have happened without a Stockhausen, a Subotnick, a Cage, Xenakis, and…you know the drill.

  20. Corey hits the nail squarely on the head. The pop-punk crowd is exactly the target audience for this initiative. What brought me to new music as a teenager was reading Zappa’s famous quote that Varese was the reason he became a musician. Dozens of my friends came to classical music the same way. Sonic Rebellion is clearly not designed for the new music enthusiast or the reader of Sequenza 21, but for those interested in music and wanting to explore more. That should be evident in the design and packaging. I see it as neccessary if we wish to build new audiences for the music we love.

    Sean Hickey
    Naxos of America

  21. “A portion of Charles Wuorinen’s Second String Quartet” …

    Someone correct me if I am wrong, but I recalled that the Naxos Sonic Rebellion compilation includes the full (shortish) Wuorinen Second SQ — as well as the full Penderecki “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima”.

    And hardly a more “bits and pieces” compilation than the two WERGO Music of Our Time samplers from of a generation ago, in my opinion [which I recall included Cage and Meredith Monk and Lejaren Hiller …].

    Also, in my opinion, the cover art is fine, as are the very well written-compilation notes.

    I’m already waiting for Naxos’s Sonic Rebellion Returns (II); with full works or movements by Gloria Coates, Michael Hersh, and ten others …

  22. I think its time to start looking at things, especially post-modern classical music, with a fresh new perspective – both in how it is presented and how it exists in the market. There is so much great classical music that younger people (like myself) never take the time to explore because A. they are intimidated by it or B. it is never presented to them in a way that find even remotely interesting. What would you rather see – a cover with a violin and a rose or some drab landscape painting? or better yet – another hokey caricature drawing of the composers? No thank you – I’ll take an explosion of flowers in a field of fractured color.

  23. Pandering becuase it was created and curated by an ex-post punk for others of that ilk? Seriously, this was a project I put together to help inspire kids, young people, ANYONE outside of the classical world to look at this music not as ” intimidating exclusionary classical music” but as modern sound and composition. I mean who can’t hear Penderecki in Merzbow? The common ground that Cluster, Cage, Glass, Bertoia and Stereolab tread upon? I’m willing to bet my mohawk is way taller than yours = )

  24. That cover is hideous. Who are they trying to market this to? Pop-punk fans with an interest in post-WWII Art Music? I don’t doubt the worth of the music, but this just seems embarrassingly pandering to me.

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