Albums

Sounds Heard: ensemble et, al.—When the Tape Runs Out

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.

Sounds Heard: Christopher Shultis—Devisadero

Although Chris Shultis’s career as a musician and scholar has been long and multifaceted, his colleague Richard Hermann pointed out to me that he is, in a sense, a young composer: It was not until the late 1980s that Shultis (b. 1957), initially a percussionist, began to write music full-time.

Sounds Heard: Dmitri Tymoczko—Beat Therapy

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.

Sounds Heard: Music of Arlene Sierra, Volume 1

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.

Sounds Heard: Harley Gaber—In Memoriam 2010

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.

Sounds Heard: Pieces from the Past by Philip Corner for the Violin of Malcolm Goldstein

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.

Sounds Heard: Judith Shatin—Tower of the Eight Winds

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.

Sounds Heard: Vicious World Plays the Music of Rufus Wainwright

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.

Sounds Heard: John Cage—The Works for Percussion I

The history of music might finally get properly rewritten thanks to the first-ever integral recording of John Cage’s complete cycle of Imaginary Landscapes which is paired with two different performance of the contemporaneous and similarly forward-sounding Credo in US.

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