In the wake of the many “Best of 2013” lists floating around, I wanted to highlight some recent album releases worthy of your time and attention. I didn’t select them for this reason, but it occurs to me that they each say something interesting and distinct about what it means to make American music right now.
I can’t remember exactly when I first became interested in musical drones. It was like a switch—one day I didn’t get it, the next I couldn’t get enough of it. The trouble comes when I try to integrate or incorporate this music into my usual modes of listening or composing.
Between sparse ambience and dense texture are the rhythms we can typically make sense of, and this is the territory that most music explores. But I’m sometimes sympathetic to the modernist mission, the manifest destiny that wants to find new lands. What is the furthest we can go, in either direction, without entering completely inhospitable terrain?
This Tuesday, the Los Angeles Philharmonic finally took the leap and programmed a concert of works all by Los Angeles composers—Sean Friar, Julia Holter, Andrew McIntosh, and Andrew Norman. It was an extremely eclectic program that showcased the range and depth of talent here.
At LA’s Union Station last Sunday, I saw composer Christopher Cerrone’s opera based on Calvino’s novel, also called Invisible Cities. The production managed to be at once extravagant and subtle, with the audience listening to the live performance on wireless headphones while wandering freely through an actual, historically scenic train station.
Maybe simplicity is complicated because the difference between a simple idea that is banal and a simple idea that has depth can be extremely subtle. Maybe we can’t tell, at first, which is which. But then, why should this be any different than complexity?
A new release of Cage’s The Ten Thousand Things (I Ching Edition) is an incredibly clear demonstration of the unexpected and delightful confluences that result from chance-based procedures, and in many ways, I can think of no better introduction to his music.
Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels is a glorious mess. In some ways this makes it the perfect thing to put on to celebrate the 10th anniversary of LA’s Walt Disney Hall and its already turbulent history. As for the score itself, it is—how should I put this?—spectacularly over-orchestrated, bordering on near-cacophony with unsettling frequency. I mean this as a good thing.
There is a peculiar way in which Einstein on the Beach resists critical discourse, but it’s worth trying to figure out what might give this work its strange power. Because it is strangely affecting, maybe even transformative.
I’m going to admit what is probably my deepest, darkest musical secret. Of all the potentially career-ending things I’ve said online, this may potentially be the worst. Here we go…