Friday, January 18, 2008

Tapes, end tapes

had a good time at last night's Wordless Music Series concert, despite being sort of skeptical about the idea of the series in the past. from what i gather, WMS has been all about trying to expand the classical audience by booking classical music alongside rock acts, or classical pieces with rock appeal. from what i've seen of the lineups, the endeavor feels a little self-congratulatory and NPRish--the rock bands that have been chosen (Beirut, Grizzly Bear, etc.) are all pretty colossal in the indie world, and they seem more chosen for their ability to pack a room with hipsters than to actually stimulate an audience.

Radiohead is even more of a sure sell, of course, so last night's show--featuring the premier of 'Head ax-guy Jonny Greenwood's orchestral piece from "There Will Be Blood"--was jammed. it was a good piece. i enjoyed it more live than i did in the movie: lots of weird fluttering dissonance and primitive string-thumping. it was very well-paced and clocked in at a nice, manageable 20 minutes or so. in the movie, the "modern dissonant drone" thing felt gimmicky to me just b/c it was so anachronistic vis a vis the setting of the film, but live it came across as really logical and coherent and even subtle.

i also dug the Gavin Bryars piece that opened the show. it was a longish musical depiction of the sinking of the Titanic. i'm really wary of such literal-minded stuff--and there was a fair amount of beat-you-over-the-head programmatic material like taped excerpts of interviews w/ Titanic survivors and whatnot--but this piece managed to break free from all that, mainly by being just flat out gorgeous. it didn't really have sections; it was just this kind of sumptuous, wistful melodic haze, hanging in the air. Bryars said he was trying to simulate the effect of music in water, how it would just dissipate and dissipate. there was definitely that diffusion effect: it was very dreamy and unabashedly gorgeous, and reminded me--and this is going to sound ridiculous--of how beautiful classical music can be. especially live and especially in such an intense cathedral-like space. there wasn't really an element of challenge in listening to this piece. it just sounded beautiful.

i was really bummed by the short John Adams piece in the middle, "Christian Zeal and Activity." i really can't even remember what the music sounded like, only that, a few minutes in, a tape recording of a preacher came on: "Jesus is in the Holy Spirit, Satan blah blah blah." in a fraction of a millisecond, you were like, "Oh, wow, another unsophisticated critique of evangelical furor." and it just kept going and going, drowning out the music. not only is it a really obvious and played-out topic, it just felt insulting to have him lay the theme on so thick. it's like, "Isn't the title enough of an indication of where you're coming from?"

it made me think about this whole modern classical convention of the use of "tapes," like pieces scored "for orchestra and tapes" or "for clarinet and tapes," which always seems to confer like an avant-garde mystique on the proceedings. the thing nobody wants to mention is that "tapes" almost always means "heavy-handed extramusical garbage whose only purpose is to spell out for you EXACTLY how you're supposed to be interpreting whatever you're hearing or EXACTLY what political or psychological message the composer is otherwise failing to convey." program notes describing programmatic intent are one thing (Bryars's were really well-written), but do we really need the imaginative assistance of extramusical chatter and sound effects? i don't like it on "Dark Side of the Moon" and i don't need to hear it in classical music.

anyway, interesting concert. i don't see enough classical. if you ever have a chance to get up to this church for a show, you gotta; it's breathtaking. 60th and Columbus.


have been on this Tyshawn Sorey kick that seems never to exhaust itself, but i'm feeling drawn to solo Andrew Hill, i.e., "Verona Rag" and that Mosaic Select box of '70s stuff that came out recently. was reminded of the fact that i haven't dug this stuff enough when i read/played along with the pianist Vijay Iyer's awesome blindfold test from the Jazztimes website. it's really amazing b/c the way they have it set up, you can take the test along with the artist by listening to mystery mp3s and forming your own opinions before hearing theirs. and there's a ton of these archived on there! really great site. i'm very into Vijay's commentary too--he's got great taste. need to check out his music more. now that i've gotten so into Tyshawn, i'm really psyched about the forthcoming Fieldwork record (Iyer and Sorey and saxist Steve Lehman). that band plays this sort of ultracomplex math-jazz--really advanced and NOW.

1 comment:

LS said...

Nice review of the Wordless Music concert, but I have a small bone to pick with your take on "and tape" pieces. From how you and other have described the Adams piece, it does sound like he really blew it. But, very, very few of the "and tape" pieces that I've heard make use of spoken words (and I've heard quite a few). There's a lot more to be done with prerecorded sounds and live instruments, and most composers take advantage of that.

Point being - I hope you and other perceptive listeners don't write off live instrument and tape pieces just b/c of a few bad apples.