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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

John Cage/Steve Reich/Michael Tilson/Ralph Gierson - "Three Dances & "Four Organs) Vinyl LP (Angel Records)

I had this vinyl album when it first came out in 1976.  I lost it over the ages, but recently found it at my local record store 'Rockaway' on Glendale Blvd.  It's a fascinating to hear these two very different pieces on one album. "Four Organs" is what it is - four electric organs playing the same notes over and over again, with maracas keeping the beat.   Written in 1970, the cords get longer, as the beat stays consistent.  It's meditative, but also really captures the listener's attention.  For me, I love the sound of the electric organ and having four of them going on the same time, is my vision of aural bliss.  This is the original recording of this work, played by Michael Tilson Thomas (a big figure in Los Angeles classical world), Ralph Gierson, Roger Kellaway and the composer himself, Steve Reich.  There is a much more recent version of this work, and when I have time, I will compare the two. 

Side one belongs to John Cage. Thomas and Gierson on two amplified prepared pianos, and it's intense.  Cage wrote this piece, "Three Dances" in 1944, and it is punk like in its attack on the altered pianos. It's beautiful, yet very foreign sounding.  The interesting point here is that Cage looked beyond the piano keyboard to find or make new sounds out of the standard instrument.   Very rhythmic, with layers of sound on top of it.   To meditate and reflect.  The duo that never gets old. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Varèse/"Amériques," Milhaud/L'homme et son désir," & Honegger/"Pacific 231" The Utah Orchestra Maurice Abravanel, Conductor (Vanguard)

What happens when three 20th century French composers come to America?  This is an interesting evening of recorded music, with a strong theme.  These trios of the titanic classical world come up with the impressions of America.   Edgard Varèse is almost an expressionist chaotic impression of his American city of choice: New York.  It's a complex piece, that really focusses on the wonder of what NYC must have been like for an European in 1922.  Noisy, tender, and obsessed.  It's a terrific piece of orchestrated music.

Darius Milhaud's "L'homme et son désir" composed in 1918, is what the composer called his 'plastic poem. ' Stockhausen-like to a certain degree, it is one of the best orchestrations mixing a chorus with a full orchestra.  The voices blend into the mix of the music as an instrument.  They're not reciting words, and I like the voice is being used as a sound.  To me, it borders on Exotica.  Yma Sumac is lurking somewhere in the orchestration, if not literally, then at least in my sense of hearing. 

The train like rhythm in Arthur Honegger's "Pacific 231" creates the impression of a culture changing, and more likely it was when he wrote this music in 1923.  It's a beautiful world.  I like the optimistic impression of a world turning around, and the intensity of this piece is almost "Bolero" like, due that it gets faster and faster.  In my opinion, a dangerous piece of music to drive with - but it is a remarkable snapshot of a world going fast as one looks out of a train window.   So if it's not literally about America, it does detail the essence of speed, motion, and a sense of wonderment. 

James Ostryniec /Contemporary Oboe Three Aspects: Gunther Schuller "Sonata Oboe & Piano, Faye-Ellen Silverman "Oboe-Sthenics" Solo Oboe & Vladiir Ussachevsky "Pentagram" Oboe & Tape (Finnadar Records, 1982)

It is consistently an adventure when one wanders in the 20th century classical music section of a record store.  For the past three or four months, I have been fascinated with early electronic music, and this is the third album I have purchased with regards to Vladmir Ussachevsky.   The co-founder, and for twenty years or so, the director of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.  I think of him as sort of the pre-Eno - the fact that he works with real instruments, but alters their sound and pitch by using a tape machine.   The other two composers here are a total mystery to me, but it's nice to see that a female composer here is represented, Faye-Ellen Silverman, who was a student of Ussachevsky.   The oldest piece of music here is Sonata for Oboe & Piano by Gunther Schuller.

The principal subject matter for this specific album is the Oboe, played by James Ostryniec.  To me, the only oboe player I know is Andy MacKay from Roxy Music - but alas, there are others out there - and they seem to be interested in 20th century composition.  This is a gorgeous album, and the oboe sound is one that is very lonely sounding.  Like one who craves the sound of surf guitar, I imagine that there are those out there who obsessed over the sound of the oboe.   Also I want to credit Rüstem Batum for the cool image of an oboe attached to magnetic/recording tape on the front cover.  The 20th century seemed so promising in the early 1980s.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Otto Luening/Vladimir Ussachevsky - "Tape Recorder Music" (Cacophonic, Vinyl LP)

Slowly and surely, this is becoming my favorite album in my collection of vinyl goodies. I have written about Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky before, on another album that was released in the early 60s.  "Tape Recorder Music" was recorded in 1952, and it's a remarkable album on so many levels.  Without a doubt, Brian Eno must have had this album during the early Roxy Music years.  Otto and Vladimir did was basically used real instruments - piano, flute, orchestration and put it through the tape machine to manipulate the sounds. Doing loops, echo, etc. Low-tech technique that keeps getting better.

On another level, the music on this album is really beautiful. Funny as well - especially with the voices mixed in one of the works.  It has a lightness, but the sound is fantastic. And again, listening to this album, I 'm reminded of the first two Roxy Music albums.   The Columbia Princeton Electronic Music Center was a sound lab for Luening and Ussachecsky - and they used it wisely.   Historically this is a very important album, but the listening pleasure is also endless.  I really love it.