The second piece of Nate Wooley’s planned seven-part Seven Storey Mountain cycle dropped on Important records last week. It is a haunting, often aggressive sound world that moves from a place of chilled droning into a pummeling chaos, before returning to a stressed restraint reminiscent of the work’s opening moments. After listening to the work, all I wanted to do was have a conversation with him about the music that was ultimately created. Luckily for me, he was game for a little Q&A.
The mind boggles that it has taken nearly 70 years—and a year after the William Schuman centenary in 2010—for there to be a commercially available recording of Schuman’s A Free Song, the first composition to win the Pulitzer Prize in Music back in 1943. Yet this summer has seen the release of not one, but two “world premiere recordings” of A Free Song, both from groups based in Illinois.
The artist collective called Ecosono is devoted to melding experimental sound art and environmental preservation, in an effort to highlight ecological awareness through innovative musical creations. Their new DVD, Agents Against Agency, documents nine multimedia projects exploring the interconnections between musical expression in dialog with the surrounding environment, both natural and manmade.
A collection of five short tracks adding up to just 20 minutes of music, this EP feels like more of an amuse-bouche than an image of the ensemble’s full reach, but the character of the music is enchanting enough to make it an attractive listen. Each piece rings out as if the lid has been lifted up on a new music box, the lines mixing vibraphone, marimba, and glockenspiel with percussive sounds made using less traditional wood, metal, and glass objects. With these raw materials, the ensemble employs a musical vocabulary just quirky and mysterious enough that it would comfortably fit into the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Dmitri Tymoczko’s recently published book, A Geometry of Music: Harmony and Counterpoint in the Extended Common Practice, is a fascinating attempt at a generalized music theory and is a synthesis of an extremely broad range of music which is at the same time extremely heady and a joy to read. So it should probably come as no surprise that Beat Therapy, a new disc of Tymoczko’s own compositions, is equally far reaching yet utterly entertaining.
Composer Arlene Sierra is the closest thing to a “musical entomologist” that we will probably find in the world of contemporary music. The first word that comes to my mind when listening to her music is “spin,” and the accompanying visual is that of a spider weaving an intricate web with speed and dexterity, into which a myriad of other tiny creatures unsuspectingly wind themselves up.
Harley Gaber left this world just as a recording of his In Memoriam 2010 was making its public way out into it. Only a few weeks after the release of this beautiful and sometimes terrifying album, Gaber’s friend and colleague at the Innova label, Philip Blackburn, passed on the news of Gaber’s suicide. It is in a way a difficult thing to dig into this new piece and the deeper catalog of work now archived on Gaber’s website knowing that the creator is gone, but of course this is also the way to celebrate the work he left us.
Philip Corner’s 1962 Piece for Malcolm Goldstein by Elizabeth Munro is undeniably an extraordinarily difficult way to open a recording; it’s hard to imagine it luring people to listen through the entire track and beyond to whatever else follows it unless they are already hardcore devotees of uncompromising experimentalism. Yet that’s precisely what Pogus Productions has done on Pieces from the Past by Philip Corner for the Violin of Malcolm Goldstein, a CD retrospective which features a rare, long out of print track and four previously unreleased tracks from live performances. Positioning this stark music at the very beginning, however, provides an ideal grounding to help listeners understand the unusual nature of this extraordinary composer-performer relationship.
Composer Judith Shatin has been making engaging electro-acoustic music for years from her home base of Charlottesville, Virginia, where she serves as a professor and director of the Virginia Center for Computer Music at UVA. In her recent Innova release, Tower of the Eight Winds, she teams up with the Borup-Ernst Duo (Hasse Borup on violin and Mary Kathleen Ernst on piano) to present a vivid set of compositions, rendered in well-recorded, vigorous performances.