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.
When I opened the mailer that contained Vicious World Plays the Music of Rufus Wainwright, I questioned the prudence of this recording decision before I even had the shrink wrap fully removed. I mention this just in case your anti-muzak instincts are already telling you something similar. For those open-minded enough to wait until you actually hear a bit of it before making such a judgment call, well, you’re less jaded than I am.
Austin, Texas-based composer Graham Reynolds’s The Difference Engine: A Triple Concerto does not waste notes getting your attention and it keeps a firm hold on it. His language is evocative and direct: It is as if Reynolds is delivering to your ear a mysterious and ambiguous tale in sound—wildly open to interpretation, of course, but it’s a page-turner nonetheless.