Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rabbit Hole Music

I just now discovered the Naxos Music Library available through the university, where I can listen to these obscure, obtuse albums from the comfort of my browser. I am not sure I can sufficiently express the rabbit hole this opens up for me.

Just West Coast (Naxos link) opens with the lovely, romantic Suite No. 2 by Lou Harrison, arranged for guitar and harp - listening to it is not unlike being on the verge of drifting off at the Renaissance Faire, twinkling tinkles and arpeggios lazily weaving in and out in the most logical patterns. I really came to this particular maypole looking for the LaMonte Young piece Sarabande, but in variably on affairs like these, its the wallflowers like Harrison that really catch my ear. The Harry Partch pieces realized on microtonally tuned (playing notes between the notes, for the lack of a better term) guitar and harp sound even weirder than they do on his own instruments, sounding seasick and menacing, John Schnieder's sonorous reading and playful fingerwork in Partch's hobo tale Barstow: 8 Hitchhiker's Inscriptions is like the most bizzare skit ever attempted on Praire Home Companion. And, well, I am coming to terms with the fact that I still think John Cage's principles and ideas are still mindbending, but I don't really get much off his music any more, perhaps because that is the precise intention of defiant non-intention, but the duo hakes lovely hash of Cage's early Satie-influenced pieces Dream, In a Landscape, and 6 Sontatas, turning all three into the best new age bookstore muzack you've ever heard.

Now Terry Riley's Book of Abbeyozzud (Naxos link), as realized by classical guitar master David Tannenbaum (who I had the pleasure of seeing in concert not long ago), is unrivalied serpentine bliss, a fever dream, a roll in the fields of the lotus-eaters. I am on the verge of saying Riley is my favorite contemporary composer, but I always reel back thinking his recorded pieces feel less composed than they do played, that what he does is create situations in which creative people can accomplish amazing things, but then, isn't that what composition is really about?* Even the strictest Barouque lockdown is always subject to interpretation, and then can't that line of thinking be extended into everything: relationships, politics, sports - that all society is is a bracket in which creative people can do amazing things, and that the multitude of amazing things being done at all time forms another set of brackets in which another group may operate, and so on and so on?** I'm guessing if Terry Riley is inspiring this kind of big-picturism, he might just be my favorite composer.

Rounding this out with more Lou Harrison (Naxos link). With all this masterful polite guitar and exotic percussion going on, perhaps I should open an import boutique in the front part of my office, selling hemp notebooks, nag champa and batik saris.

*I don't actually know how fully-composed Riley's work is, compared to some of his cohorts.
** It is notable*** that while I give John Cage a mild diss, his later work does precisely what I am describing - creates brackets of time in which creative peopel can do amazing things. I'm guessing his work is due a revisit as well, while I'm down here in the rabbit hole.

*** Also, I know I am onto something/in too deep when I'm compelled to use footnotes.


  1. Naxos is great; however, it doesn't work at my apartment for some reason so it's not so great...

  2. @ Eric Attack!

    Hi Eric,

    The Naxos Music Library links that Alex has posted are LSU specific Links. If you are another subscriber to the NML,through a personal or another University subscription, you can search all of the terms Alex has Bolded to gain access to these recordings.

    If you have troubles, please don't hesitate to let me know, I'll be more than happy to help, both Alex and eric attack!

    Nick D'Angiolillo
    Naxos Music Library Representative