Saturday, November 29, 2008

finding beauty at an angle

Preparing, always preparing. My friend Philip and I are preparing a new collaborative blog effort about badass contemporary composers, if for no other reason than it will lead us to find our who they are. In those efforts, I came across a best of 2008 list from the classical critics at the New York Times and acquired a few of them in preparation for a day on the road - today I was headed back to my home town with my daughter in tow to see my parents, and to, of all perverse things, go to the circus. (click at your own risk) So as a part of subpreparation, I went to Wal-mart with the above collection of Michael Gandolfi's fine orchestral work in my ears. I can do the big box stores with headphones on, in fact I rather enjoy how the throng of frustrated shoppers get Koyannisqatsi'd by whatever I'm listening to. NY Times critic Allin Kozinn said this collection would "show that angularity can be beautiful" and well, the only beauty one can find in Wal-Mart is at an angle.

Gandolfi's tasteful survey of 20th-century music styles is a little smooth for my jagged palate, though I will say I stopped my cart in its wobbly tracks at the 9th movement of Themes from a Midsummer Night (Time Dream) where strains of pulses and patterns collide at differing tempos forming a complex organic harmony out of disorder, perfectly describing the relatively deserted shopping behemoth at that early hour.

The road calls for sturdier stuff, so the Orion String Quartet's muscular performance of the first four string quartets by Leon Kirchner got me on my way. One of my goals of this new blog is to find a contemporary badass specializing in string quartets, for they are my favorite, and Kirchner is close. He has that Schoenberg daydream thing going without the master atonalist's feathery touch - Krichner saws through the laws of music to form his pieces. The music takes place like a cocktail party - people speaking in bursts, possibly answering each other, possibly not. The 3rd quartet with the electronic tape accompaniment was particularly nice - at one point there was a giant squelching buzz, like when someone on Family Feud offered an answer not in the survey results.

Once that played out, I opted for the pleasantries of the Now Ensemble. I know nothing about this group, except they share a label with itsnotyouitsme, whose album as described in the NYT roundup piqued my interest. My suspicion is that the real interesting new music is being done not by composers as such, but by art music bands such as this one. It was raining hard at this point, and the back roads to my home town are slick and nerve-wracking in these conditions, so all I can say is the Now Ensemble was a sweet burbling compass that guided me through the storm.

Thanksgiving leftovers were eaten. The circus was observed, and pretty funny actually. There was a French clown that did these really simple but effective stunts on a bike, and nothing is cuter than six immaculately trained dachshunds. I will agree that the circus is a terrible thing - I kept hoping one of the elephants would toss a goddamn clown into the bleachers and go out in a blaze of glory, but nope, they danced to rehashed New wave hits along with the rest of cast.

On the way home, I wanted to hear John Adams' Hallelujah Junction since I plan to read his autobiography named for this piece, lauded in yet another NYT list. The piece is piano four hands, and consists of, it seems, only two notes arranged and overlapped to create a full orchestra simply out of juxtaposition, resonance and rhythm. Like most everything else Adams does, it is lovely.

My tastes for rippling minimalism were like my desire for Thanksgiving leftovers at this point - fully sated, so I jumped into Yes. I cannot stop listening to Yes. They have become my "What Would Jesus Do" bypassing the question part and going straight to the affirmative response. My daughter requested that I change the song from the back seat because it was creeping her out. Once again, youth recognizes when questions need not be answered, or even asked.

So I put on The BBC Sessions from Belle and Sebastian. If I didn't have some silly personal rules against reissue packages residing on my favorite-of-the-year list, this would be near the top, if only for "Stars of Track and Field"

From 2006 in San Fransisco:

I love this song so much it hurts - I think the version recorded for the Beeb is implausibly more poignant than the original, and any tension of darkness and rain and family and holidays was quickly erased by it. The excess of Yes was contained by it, the racing pulses of minimalist composers and the lurching arrhythmia plaguing old Kirchner corrected into a slow, healthy gate, and in it Wal-Mart and my hometown and the circus converged, elephants freed from their duty playfully tossing merchandise around the store and with that, I pulled into my driveway and shut off the car.

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