Symphony 8 in Four Movements

I listen to a lot of really off-the-wall music, but once in a blue moon something comes along that startles even me. Twin Cities-based Matthew Smith’s symphonies for overdubbed jaw harps, 1/16-th size Suzuki violins, normal strings, and assorted percussion are bizarre beyond belief. Something of a Captain Beefheart in reverse, Smith, after 30 years as a successful painter, put down his brush and started composing music. The result is an extremely timbre-sensitive approach to sound based on built up layers much the way paintings create images from applying multiple layers of paint. Smith’s scores are un-notated although they are completely worked out. (A work created for the Minneapolis-based new music ensemble Zeitgeist, which is also included on the disc, shows how his orally-transmitted scores—communicated mostly through mouth sounds and body gestures—come across when performed by other musicians.) All in all, the results are emotionally turbulent yet extraordinarily immediate, perhaps the result of devoting the majority of his creative life to an art form that is not time-based.