Sounds Heard: Aaron Cassidy—The Crutch of Memory

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.

Sounds Heard: Untravelled Path—Work in Progress

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%.”

Sounds Heard: Michael Gordon—Timber

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.

Sounds Heard: Stefan Weisman / Anna Rabinowitz—Darkling

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.

Sounds Heard: Florence B. Price—Concerto in One Movement; Symphony in E Minor

By the time of her death in 1953, Florence Price had completed over 300 pieces of music, among them the very first symphony by a black woman ever performed by a major symphony orchestra in the United States. Yet after her death, performances waned and, aside from a few of her spiritual arrangements being championed by Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price (no relation) who sang one at the White House in 1978, there was only a single disc devoted to her music which is now out of print. But now a new Albany CD devoted to Price attempts to right that wrong.

Sounds Heard: Alexander Berne—Flickers of Mime/Death of Memes

The path through Alexander Berne & the Abandoned Orchestra’s Flickers of Mime—paired here in a 2-CD set with his equally fascinating Death of Memes—weaves in its course. Beginning with an ambient base layer of sound out of which distinct sonic events emerge and retreat, Berne creates the sensation that we are watching the landscape of a foreign country through the window of a moving vehicle, the sights only half glimpsed and even less concretely understood.

Games Played: IV-V-I

With the holidays upon us, many of us musical types have been doing some last-minute shopping, racking our brains to think of any gift that is sufficiently cooler than a treble clef paperweight. So it seems like a good time to bring up IV-V-I, a new harmony-based card game created and designed by composer and educator Rafael Hernandez.

Sounds Heard: The Beach Boys—The Smile Sessions

The Smile Sessions—a total of 144 tracks (in its most complete available form) from the 80 sessions recorded by The Beach Boys between 1966 and 1967 for the never-issued LP SMiLE—contains some of the most provocative musical ideas of the last half-century in any genre of music. But it has taken nearly 45 years for it to be officially released.

Sounds Heard: itsnotyouitsme—Everybody’s Pain Is Magnificent

For an album peppered with so many electronic sources, much of itsnotyouitsme’s Everybody’s Pain sounds surprisingly earthy and organic (as suggested by Allegrea Rosenberg’s striking cover art, which features roots and branches framed in a kind of pixelated, psychedelicized landscape). It’s a good fit for an album in which electronic sounds and processing are frequently used to conjure textures that seem almost more “alive” than the sound of traditional acoustic instruments.