Friday, November 21, 2008

Badass of Modern Composition: Michael Gordon

I was asked who the current badass composers are, and I didn't know, so here is the first of many attempts to find them

Here are three excerpts from Michael Gordon's Lightning at our Feet, as performed by the Ridge Theatre.

Gordon is one of the founding members of Bang on a Can, and my theory its is through the more band-like ensembles and the immediacy of YouTube and MySpace and other carefully capitalized outlets that the real stuff will be discovered.

This piece reminds me of one of my favorite out-there bands Bardo Pond, not so much in direct instrumentation or sound, but in the heavy haze that surrounds the music, like you and the music are both moving through this thicket to reach each other. The wall between this and groups like Bardo Pond and Beme Seed is a thin one, but rather than taking the drug-ravaged ecstatic approach the aforementioned bands with laconic female singers take, Lightning at our Feet seems to come from a high art direction, like it is walking away from an accident, stunned and processing.

Here is a less romantic but equally spectral piece Industry (1992), a solo piece for amplified cello, performed by Jeffrey Zeigler

At first it appears to travel the same wires as Tony Conrad, finding bliss in the physical and metaphoric grind, but as it progresses, the electronics become more integrated into the sawed cello, creating something monstrous and other out of their coupling.

More transparent in its processes and impact is XY, a 1998 piece for solo percussion.

Gordon here explores a natural impulse to repeatedly bang on something. If you have ever witnessed a kid (or me) at a drum kit, this is the default setting - pound away. Actual drummers tend to cringe at this behavior- rightfully so, it is annoying - because the art of being a musician is as much about restraint as it is release, and it is in that restraint/release that the world's great music is crafted. XY is close to the raw experiential, a drum echoing in a room, action fusing with reaction. I realize there is more than that going on here, of course, but that impulse to repeat something that sounds/feels good to do is something that art tends to fight against in the efforts to contour expression, and it is, to me anyway, rather exhilarating when art doubles back on itself.

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