Somebody needs to compose the aural equivalent of this. If they don't, I will.
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Some music hangs together so distinctly, yet is composed of such unexpected elements, that one can imagine oneself in another world with the music being what the inhabitants have worked out over a long period of time, an imaginary ethnic music, an imaginary classical music.
https://www.innova.mu/albums/lawrence-moss/new-paths Philip Blackburn interviews composer Lawrence (Larry) Moss...
Philip Blackburn is a fascinating composer (and also CEO of Innova) whose work can be seen as environmental art with sound. Like his mentor, Kenneth Gaburo, Blackburn has written or developed many sound installations, performance experiences and manipulations of the aural experience that are reminiscent of everything from Harry Partch to John Cage to Stockhausen. This is music that is nearly impossible to describe – and that many will not understand or like – but which, for me, is at least quite interesting and, in some cases, ethereal and fascinating.
A great example is the opening work, Duluth Harbor Serenade, in which Blackburn and a dozen or so collaborators went to the nearly empty shipyards on Lake Superior, Duluth, Minnesota to both record ambient sounds as well as create a spontaneous mélange of contributed sounds. The existing sounds include harbor buoys, bells, ship horns, train whistles, metal on metal machinery and the effect of the wind altering the many pre-existing timbres. The performance artists contributed vocalizations, wind instruments, small percussion and various “found” instruments. The net effect is really a kind of musical “happening” in a kind of retro-60s way but with an eerie contemporary strangeness.
Ghostly Psalms is similar in its impact as well as its origins. The title is taken from a collection of church psalms written in the vernacular language by Myles Coverdale in 1539. Blackburn takes the notion of the “vernacular” or that of local significance and carries his blend of vocal and small instrumental improvisations into several seemingly disparate locales. For example, Jungle Litany references several different languages that at one point or another were present in the tropical ecosystem in Belize (ie: Mayan, Creole, Latin, Spanish, etc) Performers intone the names of plants and other random vocalizations. Draw On, Sweet Night was performed in the Trinity Cathedral’s Wren Library. The title is an allusion to an English madrigal by Wilbye and performers intone selections from Hildegard von Bingen while also being wired to brain wave sensors in a manner I cannot explain. Roots of a Magic Square is, essentially, an organ duet based on a pitch and number matrix. The Shadow of My Shadow is a work for large scale string assembly played directly by performers as well as triggered by sympathetic vibrations. The remaining sections of this nearly hour long work – Non-Judgment Day is Nigh, Now, More or Less Than Never, Beyond and Above, Scratch I-Ching and Hymn to the Solar System – all have very similar philosophical and transcendental references that are fairly complex to understand. Performers throughout contribute to the sound through small ethnic and world percussion, vocalizations, organ, acoustical sources of many sorts and some electronics. Blackburn’s booklet notes are similarly fascinating but make for tough reading. They offer just enough information to – correctly – give the impression that this is music or sound experience created in a way like none other but not enough “nuts and bolts” info to fully understand how these sounds were produced and where and why. Ghostly Psalms as a large sonically meditative experience is strange and sometimes unsettling but not unpleasant.
The short small-scale choral work, Gospel Jihad, gets its quite provocative title from the composer’s realization on the very contemporary notion of a holy war. Two small choral ensembles intone or sing extracts from some traditional and “war-like” Christian hymns (“The Son of God Goes Forth to War”, as one example) The singers compete antiphonally with bits of actual hymns as well as shouting and demanding unsung snippets of text. Blackburn describes the two elements as “introvert and extrovert.” There is a commentary, to be sure, on the position that dissonant cultures take with respect to their gods that Blackburn intends. Just from a sound point of view, this is a short and somewhat disturbing experience that certainly creates interesting internal discussion.
Much of Philip Blackburn’s music sounds like a sound environment that the listener stumbles into or, perhaps, intrudes upon. There is a feeling of a strange, sometimes beautiful, sometimes frightening world into which we are suddenly immersed. Not all listeners will want to be immersed. I have always found music like this best – and most dramatically – experienced live; to walk through; to stand in various locations and absorb for a time. The recording is very good, it is spatial. I liked this for what it is – and did not dislike it because of what it is not. Blackburn is a very unique and, clearly intelligent, visionary artist. This is not casual listening. It is – however – deep listening with an open mind and acute hearing as pre-requisites.
Marc Rossi Group: “Mantra Revealed” jazz review for “CD/LP/Track Review” column by Glenn Astarita.
Multifaceted Boston-based keyboardist, composer Marc Rossi whets the harmonic palate with a genre-hopping brew of Indo-jazz, fusion and modern jazz. An educator at Boston's Berklee College of Music, Rossi is a staple in the region's progressive-jazz scene, spanning numerous formats and ensemble gatherings. Here, the artist plants his imaginative powers with a hip, upbeat, and tuneful array of works sans any filler tracks. Essentially, these disparate pieces teeter on that fuzzy space, where blithely memorable themes seamlessly coalesce with synchronous excursions into Eastern modalities and other offshoots.
Rossi varies the schema with a hybrid Latin-jazz vamp hued by percussionist Mauricio Zottarelli's mallet-based North African overlay on "Sahara." With a contemporary-jazz flair, perpetuated by saxophonist Lance Van Lenten, the band minces a windblown melody with the Latin element via Afro-Cuban interludes, featuring Rossi's fluid block chord progressions driving the cadence.
They open up during the bridge, where the pianist dissects the primary melody with yet more block chords and spirals the pitch into a different tonal range. Indeed, he pushes the band into a polymetric opus, tinted with subtle complexities. An unanticipated surprise for 2012, Mantra Revealed invokes a thrusting spiritual presence that hovers throughout the briskly moving parts.
Personnel: Marc Rossi: composer, Steinway B piano, keyboards, laptop; Lance Van Lenten: tenor & soprano saxophones; Bill Urmson: electric basses; Mauricio Zottarelli: drums & percussion; Bruce Arnold: guitar.
At a recent Bargemusic CD release concert, Cornelius Dufallo described his solo record Journaling as the union of two journeys: one leading into past memories and reflections, and the other into unbounded imaginary worlds. The album marks a milestone for Dufallo’s three-year concert series of the same name (launched in 2009), spanning works composed by both the violinist and his peers. And whether Dufallo wanders in the past or tinkers with the future, he passionately revives the art of the one-man band.
“Violin Loop I” illustrates Dufallo’s uncanny self-reliance both in technical artistry and emotional power. A few curt, rapid notes begin the piece, recorded to form the first of many loops to come. While this sequence repeats, Dufallo delves into the second loop: several pungent plucks, spaced by tight bouts of silence. His sound grows increasingly intricate thereafter, each layer assuming a unique and bold identity. ”Violin Loop V” shows a different side of Dufallo’s craft, shrouded in softer textures and an ethereal aura.
Dufallo launched several world premieres in concert, notably Paul Brantley’s “Violon D’Ingres”. The title signifies “second calling” in French, referring to the neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, whose love for the violin went largely unrecognized. Dufallo’s fiddling, however, paid Ingres poignant homage. Sharp spears of violin punctuated the underlying melody, countered by airy meanders and assertive twists. These nuances formed an aural pointillist painting, conjuring elaborate musical scenes with only a few phrases and notes. Though this track is not featured on Journaling, the Chinese folk-inspired “Four Fragments” takes a similar approach, jolting alive with every acerbic uprising.
Dufallo’s creativity turns even zestier on “Playlist One (Resonance)”, composed by pianist Vijay Iyer. Laced in “fiendishly difficult passages of harmonics,” the track undergoes erratic evolution, oscillating from pitchy whines to organic plucks. Part of its appeal lies in this slight angularity. But approximately five minutes in, Dufallo’s urgent tone gathers momentum until it transforms, conjuring the sound of bagpipes with startling accuracy.
At once, the violinist reveals a new dimension of his craft that transcends textural manipulation. Dufallo’s journey may be a solo endeavor, but it is anything but solitary. On his humble violin, he unites the past and present with undiscovered futures, forging a path of strident yet heartfelt innovation.
The San Francisco-based Volti has been a consistent innovator in vocal music for over 30 years. The mission of the 25-member a capella ensemble is to think outside the box of choral music, and to continue expanding that landscape by commissioning new works and championing the music of living, breathing composers. In its latest CD House of Voices, Volti brings its exceptional musicality to the table once again.
The first piece, by Yu-Hui Chang, uses text from two poems by Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate from 2001-2003. Both movements of Being: Two Collins Songs address personal awareness of both the mental and physical realms. However, “Shoveling Snow with Buddha” is energetic, employing contrapuntal lines and conveying the conversational tone of the text, while “The Night House” relays more vertical chordal structures with a rich, though more subdued sound.
Ted Hearne’s five-movement work Privilege is the most wide-ranging and dramatic of the pieces on this disc. As the composer chosen for Volti’s 2009-10 Choral Arts Laboratory, he has asked a great deal of Volti in this adventurous work, and they have certainly delivered. The first and third movements use texts written by Hearne himself, from the standpoint of a privileged member of American society, and the texts of the second and fourth movements are snippets from an interview with The Wire producer David Simon that address the income divide between rich and poor, while the final movement, “We Cannot Leave,” is a setting of an anti-Apartheid Song translated into English. The tart harmonies and sinewy lines of this composition seem to be recorded at closer range than the other pieces, bringing a sense of intimacy to the piece, placing the listener very near the ensemble as if in a small, intimate performance space.
By comparison, the works that immediately follow seem almost conservative, although they are no less elegant. In Daglarym / My Mountains, Donald Crockett attempts to recreate the landscape of Tuva by using melodic and text material from Tuvan folk songs gathered by musician and researcher Katherine Vincent. Crockett stays largely within Western harmonic language in this piece, straying only occasionally into a slightly nasal singing technique during the interpretation of carefully chosen Tuvan words. Eric Moe’s The Crowds Cheered as Gloom Galloped Away is a characteristically energetic and effective setting of an equally characteristically quirky choice of text dealing with antidepressants that come packaged with… tiny ponies. It’s disconcertingly whimsical and somber at once. As with the Yu-Hui Chang piece mentioned earlier, Wayne Peterson creates two clear, no-nonsense settings of texts by a single poet—in this case, Delmore Schwartz—in this case about the beauty of art and of contemplating the free-spiritedness of childhood as respite from the pains of contemporary life.
The big finish on House of Voices is the 15-minute tribute to the power of the moon, Luna, Nova Luna, by Volti composer-in-residence Mark Winges. This lush, dramatic work combining Volti and the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir includes a cornucopia of texts with moon references, and really does travel to the moon and back in its range of dramatic contrast and musical language, laid bare by deft combinations of child and adult voices. Winges is obviously extremely familiar with the voices of Volti, and supremely comfortable working in the realm of choral music in general, as if driving a well-loved car that has been in the family for ages.
Within the choral music world this recording might be considered crazy, heady stuff, but to these ears it is first and foremost inspiring, magnificently performed music. Virtuosic? Absolutely. If this recording doesn’t make every composer who listens to it crave to write choral music, and in particular for Volti, I don’t know what will.
The Innova label has just released a full album of pieces by young composer Nick Vasallo who used to play in death metal bands before he dived into academic studies in contemporary music. Today, he has his Ph.D. and still plays death metal in Oblivion. And in his artistic process he attempts to infuse elements of metal in chamber music. And it works. Monuments Emerge is full of highlights, strokes of genius even, that blend the density of heavy metal with the harmonics of gamelan, the polyrhythms of taiko, and atonality. “Explosions in the Sky” is an attempt at reproducing the textural effects used by the post-rock band of the same name. And “Oblivion” features Vasallo’s metal band alongside a choir in a striking sludge-like piece. Recommended.
Benjamin Broening has produced a breathtaking suite for pianos, entitled "Recombinant Nocturnes," an exquisite, ever-evolving cycle of pieces that is at once dark gray and light as a feather...
The night is perhaps the most favorite time for artists to be about stringing words or music together like necklaces of glittering gems—beautiful, expectant… ominous. Not long ago the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote that glorious elegy for his father, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and for about three hundred years before that musicians—French, Italians and of course that famous Prussian, Frederic Chopin—have been writing studies and pieces evocative of the night and calling them “nocturnes”. And now another Frenchman, the fine young composer, Benjamin Broening has produced a breathtaking suite for pianos, entitled Recombinant Nocturnes, an exquisite, ever-evolving cycle of pieces that is at once dark gray and light as a feather, viscous and dotted with the Great Bear, Orion and a myriad of constellations; even starless and Bible-black, whether nothing flickers but the suggestion of unearthly spirits roaming as if on a modern Passover, reminiscent of that great day of deliverance.
The composition is flawless, attacking pitch and tone, and the timbre of the night with the awe-inspiring pianism of the Duo Runedako—pianists Ruth Neville and Daniel Koppelman—who are seamlessly bound to the Nocturnes as if by a common umbilicus. They play the pieces with great sensitivity, sublime musicianship and incredible interpretative ingenuity. The works entitled “Nocturne Fragments: Mercurial,” “Nocturne Fragments Remote” and very specially “…Fragments: flexible, mysterious, resonant” and “…Fragments: aggressive, bright, eventually giving way” are pieces that so capture the nature of the night body and spirit that there is an eerie sense that the time of day envelopes the room in which the music is played whilst the listener grapples and battles in a medieval manner, the spirits that roam the night. The composer does not make any attempt here to romanticize the subject, but rather unclothes her to reveal her truly mercurial character in all her naked glory.
Benjamin Broening’s composition truly captures the power of sound with a certain sense of timelessness. The sense of nuanced tonality and penchant for unearthing the hidden timbres of such a divine invention as night, in a nocturne—or a series of pieces—in a suite imitating that time of night when nothing stirs but the wind and the spirit-speak with whooshes and weeping; blithe laughter and gaiety and unexpurgated joy is his genius. On the other hand is the virtuosity, the ingenious expression and dynamic of the pianists who, playing together or separately, have carved an indelible interpretation of a piece eminently worthy of the CD that it is on. This is also one of the most sensitively recorded productions for which kudos must go to Innova Recordings and Philip Blackburn, for showing courage, dedication and sensitivity for the soul of the artist.
http://www.innova.mu/artist/graham-reynolds Philip Blackburn interviews Austin music legend Graham Reynolds (Golden Arm Trio) with reference to his two innova CDs. His soundtrack for the new Jack Black, Richard Linklater movie, Bernie, opens in theaters this week.
Let’s play a word association game. If I say, “prepared piano,” many of you might think “John Cage.” Yes, John Cage was a pioneer for prepared piano, and yes, Sonatas and Interludes becomes an almost inevitable comparison when discussing any prepared piano composition, but I only mention Cage because I don’t want you to think about him. (I realize, of course, that’s like saying, “Don’t think of a honey badger.”)
The problem with comparing Eleven Short Stories to Cage is that while the basic instrument is the same(ish), the end results are anything but. If you listen to this album with Cage as your expectation, you will be confused at best and incorrectly disappointed at worst. Cage’s prepared piano is exotic, percussive, and somewhat esoteric. It is high art in the best sense. Erdem Helvacioğlu’s prepared piano is electronic, quasi-minimalistic, and highly accessible. This is more a pop album, also in the best sense.
Eleven Short Stories is inspired by the works of film directors Kim Ki-Duk, David Lynch, Krzysztof Kieslowsi, Theodoros Angelopoulos, Jane Campion, Anthony Minghella, Ang Lee, Atom Egoyan, Darren Aronofsky, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Steven Soderbergh. As to which director is paired with each piece, that is deliberately left unstated. Each is given a title suggesting a scene, such as “Jittery Chase” and “Shrine in Ruins,” and since each track is more about its title than anything else, Helvacioğlu seems wise to avoid any specific associations.
As a whole, it is abundantly clear that Helvacıoğlu has a remarkable ear, and he makes it easy to forget that all these sounds are generated from a piano. Every sound, every nuance serves the music, and nothing ever feels forced or hollow; his background in electroacoustic music most likely contributed to these highly successful preparations. The means of recording are also an important part of this album. Helvacioğlu used five microphones, two extremely close to the strings with the other three serving to capture broader perspectives. He also isn’t afraid to use multi-track recording to get all the sounds he needs, which brings me back to this being a pop album.
The influence of popular music is evident in several tracks, even to the extent that there seems to be a backbeat and claps on occasion.1 More than that, though, is that this CD feels like a pop album. Most ‘classical’ CDs are about taking music that was originally meant to be heard live and attempting to archive it. They are recordings, if you will. In this case, the music seems to be written for the CD, and would be rather difficult to reproduce live—each piece has a unique preparation and the multi-track recording would require that some sounds be played over speakers in a live setting. The tracks are also relatively short (4:21 on average), adding to the pop feel. This isn’t a recording. It’s an album, and a very good album, at that.
Helvacioğlu does a wonderful job evoking each of these eleven scenes. Two standouts for me were Blood Drops by the Pool and Six Clocks in a Dim Room. The former is decidedly the most experimental on the CD, but also one of the most evocative. The scraping sounds would be perfectly at home in any thriller, and the gradual accretion of the “blood drops,” which crescendo into chaos in the middle of the track is just fantastic. Were I alone in a dark alley in a strange city, this is not the music I’d want to hear. Safe at home, I love it. Six Clocks on the other hand has an entirely different feel. There is a driving beat that fades in and out, which might be heard as either rhythm guitar or bass, and a simple melody produced by plucked strings hangs over this foundation as other ambient sounds fill out the track.
There is a fair amount of variety across the CD, both in sounds and styles, and I imagine that nearly everyone will have their own favorite tracks. Still, there remains a cohesiveness to this album that works extremely well, thanks in large part to the single underlying source of sound production. I was not familiar with Erdem Helvacioğlu before this CD, but I am now anxious to hear what else his discography has to offer. Eleven Short Stories is an excellent CD, and I would highly recommend it.
Just don’t think about Cage.