Imaginary Islands, the latest entry in Bridge Records’ rather extensive Lansky discography, is composed expressly for and performed entirely by a symphony orchestra with no electronic elements whatsoever. Throughout his life, Lansky actually had composed for corporeal performers on acoustic instruments, or—as he jokingly describes them in his notes for the present CD—“carbon based life forms,” even though his reputation as a composer was established almost exclusively on the basis of his electronic music. Nevertheless, the three compositions collected on this new disc, all of which were composed within the last five years, chart a remarkable new compositional direction.
Before the Aeolus Quartet returned to the frozen Northeast, they entered the studios at UT Austin to record Many-Sided Music, an album of new works by American composers, its title taken from Leonard Bernstein’s description of the “many-sidedness” of American music. I’ve had the good fortune of hearing several of these pieces live, fresh, and new, but it’s great to hear them with the benefit of time and reflection.
Kick & Ride proves an apt title for composer Eric Moe’s recent BMOP Sound release, highlighting his use of drum set and percussion throughout the three compositions represented. The high energy works, characterized by Moe in the liner notes as “cantankerous sisters,” indeed deliver shots of dramatic flair and suspenseful anxiety that could nearly persuade a listener to skip that all-important morning cup of coffee.
Steve Roden’s …i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces (music in vernacular photographs 1880-1955) is a multimedia package that attracts attention with a whisper and glance, rather than a bell and a whistle. Two CDs containing a total of 51 tracks of early American music are slipped into the front and back cover pockets of a cleanly designed hardback book, the interior heavyweight pages are bursting with scans of 150 historic photographs.
Danger Garden (2006), the composition which opens a new disc devoted to Hughes’s music and also lends its name to the CD’s title, is an extraordinary aural rendering of the zeitgeist, an era offering more opportunities than any other heretofore albeit at the risk of information overload and attention deficit.
We could call Cassidy’s approach—those proliferating and always-changing approaches, rather—”extreme,” but that would be unfairly reductive. A listen through The Crutch of Memory, whose pieces show not only Cassidy’s growth as a composer but also the surprising multivalence of his pieces’ deliberately unstable material, will quickly dispel that prejudice.
Work in Progress, the second disc from the Taos-based duo Untravelled Path, features microtonal instrumental music they perform on their own hand-made creations as well as four not-quite songs—a group of free-form mini-epics fusing words and music which last between 5 ½ and 7 minutes. Their otherworldly music, according to them, might be “some of the very first New Music for the 99%.”
When the recording of Michael Gordon’s Timber dropped last fall, critics justifiably drooled a little on the impressively weighty, laser-etched, inch-thick wooden box that held the CD. It was actually the recent experience of hearing Mantra Percussion play the piece live here in Baltimore, however, that drew me more deeply inside the transfixing power of a score designed for six percussionists and lumber.
As of late, much contemporary opera has been reducing its footprint by relying on smaller forces for performance and documentation. Darkling, with music by Stefan Weisman and libretto by poet Anna Rabinowitz, is one such example of an opera that packs a punch even though served in a relatively small container.