Latigo, a 2007 Grammy-nominated disc by Quartet San Francisco, features Latin percussion accompanying string quartet tangos and dances. Some of the tracks have odd ripples of “Oye Como Va”—congas and cowbells playing familiar patterns—but Cohen, the group’s first violinist, uses the quartet creatively to mirror the percussion instruments in his piece “Crowdambo.” Some fancy bow work that sounds like a scraped cuica, along with guitar-like pizzicato and short, brittle attacks make “Crowdambo” stand out from the rest of the disc.
Chris Becker creates extraordinarily vivid, almost cinematic, sonic landscapes from layering old field recordings with modern day electronics and contributions from a wide variety of improvising instrumentalists. On “Wake Up Dead Man,” Becker uses a chain-gang chant as a starting point for an extraordinarily eerie evocation of hard time.
Matthew Gold, Eduardo Leandro, Tom Kolor, Matthre Ward, percussion; Paul Hostetter, conductor
When confronted with an album titled Matrix, a compilation of chamber music by baby boomer composer Louis Karchin, one would expect to hear a big giant mound of integral serialism. Yes, there’s a fair share of atonal sonorities, but the longest work on the CD, Quartet for Percussion, takes its inspiration from Renaissance dances. Go figure.
It’s a truly ’60s flashback—to composer Soldier’s childhood specifically. Soldier seems to be pursuing some sort of intellectual mash up philosophy in many of the pieces included on this disc of chamber works—Baroque suites meet North American powwow dances, a bass flute player channels a young rapper—but in East St. Louis, 1968, Soldier takes us back in time by running the viola line over a bed of sonic samples and rhythms meant to chronicle his memory of being an 11 year old carrying his own viola through his hometown in Southern Illinois.
In recapping the year that was 2006, most took another moment to remember the life and career of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. It’s almost too bittersweet to have this recording of Peter Lieberson’s music which he built on five of Neruda’s love sonnets as a gift for the woman he loved. Even if you come to the work ignorant of the details behind it, you couldn’t miss the sentiment so strongly communicated in the performance here. Lorraine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra under James Levine convey the power of each of the various facets of love described in the texts and embedded in the music. In the liner notes, Peter shares the simple knowledge that “I loved Lorraine completely and I have never felt so completely loved.” In this work and in their performance, that embrace is generously shared with the rest of us.
A couple of months ago, my wife and I were celebrating an anniversary with a meal at Petrossian’s, an extremely fancy Russian restaurant normally way out of our price range. So we were definitely not in our usual element. Well, not quite. Our waiter turned out to be an emerging composer. I just can’t escape new music, wherever I am! Anyway, once I learned he had a recording available, I had to check it out. Bisharat creates and performs extremely idiomatic, aphoristic solo guitar etudes, frequently full of delicious (can’t resist) harmonics as they are on “DFE.”
Sirius String Quartet
How do you make an awesome drone? Start with the ingredients: Tube, mouth, bow, string. Turns out this very recipe shares its name with the title track of Nick Didkovsky’s latest CD. Here’s how to put everything together: Take a sting quartet and amplify the sound of each individual instrument. Send the audio signals to talkboxes, devices that transmit sound through a plastic tube which, in turn, the performer inserts into his or her mouth. As the musicians alter their mouth shape (here Didkovsky indicates various vowel sounds in the score), the sound material modulates. In addition, the piece uses harmonizer pedals to further enhance certain frequencies over the course of the composition. Confused? Don’t worry, there are plenty of photos in the booklet accompanying the CD that illustrate the process, which in one sense is rather unfortunate. As those of you who’ve ever played a talkbox know, there’s just no way of looking glamorous while your skull is vibrating so hard. Oh, the sacrifices we make for art.
There is a lot I could say about Applebaum’s The Blue Cloak, but no matter why you want to hear this piece, you’ll definitely want to hear the mouseketier, “an original electroacoustic sound-sculpture, a musical Frankenstein made of junk, hardware, and found objects—threaded rods, nails, springs, doorstops, Astroturf, steel wheels, bronze braising rod, ratchets, etc.—that is played with chopsticks, violin bows, knitting needles, brushes, plectra, and wind-up toys, and whose sounds are grossly transformed in performance by a battery of live electronics.”
See, I told you.
Manuel Zurria, flutes
I’ve been a rabid fan of Philip Glass’s early austere minimalist pieces from the late ’60s and early ’70s since I was in high school, but while pieces like Music in Similar Motion almost never left my turntable (much to the chagrin of the rest of my family), others were just names I read about longingly but was never able to actually hear. Thanks to a new two-CD set on the seemingly inexhaustible Orange Mountain Music label featuring the enterprising Italian ensemble Alter Ego, many of Glass’s earliest additive process works are finally available commercially. I have a particular fondness for Piece in the Shape of a Square, a 1968 work which proves that early Glass and early Reich were not as stylistically far apart as their later work became.
Cuarteto Latinoamericano; members of the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic; Juan Pablo Izquierdo, conductor
George Crumb’s amplified, hardcore classic Black Angels is already tough as nails. However, in hopes of giving it a new edge, or maybe just jumping on the Metallica bandwagon, conductor Juan Pablo Izquierdo convinced the composer to allow him take a stab at arranging the work to include an entire string orchestra alongside the original electrified quartet. The new arena-sized version is no more earth shattering than the original—in fact, believe it or not, some of the work’s harsher sonorities are made more lush by adding more troops to the ensemble. In any case, Crumb’s piece seems just as poignant and relevant today as it ever has.