The first post in this series on innova’s recent output threw up some interesting comments on the way that releases on innova (and many other labels like them) are funded. That is, through up-front payments by the artists releasing the recording. That in turn opens up a debate on the role of editorial control on the part of the label, but it’s not one that I’m going to enter into just yet.
Instead, having covered some of the recent single-composer releases on innova, I’d like to look at some of the performer showcases. I’m speculating here, but I imagine that different motivations lie behind a group proposing an album to innova than a composer. For the composer the main benefit of commercial release (beyond the usual) may be prestige: an all-important line on a CV. For a group it is genuinely a chance to have their voice heard, create some buzz and perhaps win some gigs or a future recording opportunity. Does the actual content of the recording matter more in that case?
Beta Collide are a flute/trumpet/piano/percussion quartet who play works by Rzewski, Erickson, Kyr, Silvestrov and Vitiello, as well as an arrangement of Ligeti (Mysteries of the Macabre) and an arrangement/remix of Radiohead’s ‘Nude’. Zeitgeist are a percussion, wind and piano quartet who sandwich Ivo Medek in between works by Anthony Gatto, Jerome Kitzke, Kathy Jackanich and Ethan Wickman. Likewise, saxophonist Timothy McAllister programmes Philippe Hurel alongside North Americans like Daniel Asia and Caleb Burhans.
From a European perspective, there’s quirky fun to be had spotting the continental names that make it onto innova CDs, even more in guessing what process got them there. There’s no sense of canon-formation or conventional stylistic allegiance, at least: what connections there are transcend the usual academic box-making.
McAllister is a good player, but his repertory choices on Glint are too samey: passages in the pieces by Wanamaker and Etezady not only sound like each other, they both reminded me of the same third piece (a short thing by Wim Mertens called Songes; too small to have been an influence, but a distracting association nevertheless). Many of the pieces deal in running semiquavers and a generally polite tone. Although he is billed as a spectralist pioneer, Hurel’s music lacks the aesthetic and political radicalism of Dufourt, Grisey or Murail; however, Opcit stretches this album’s horizon with overtones, keyslaps and a form that disintegrates unexpectedly in its centre. The piece still has its limitations, but it is intriguing to hear the continuities of a work like this, which claims its ancestry in the European avant garde, alongside the more conservative works by the American composers represented here.
Several of the tracks on Zeitgeist’s album In Bone-Coloured Light strike a post-minimal balance between the fragile and non-self-absorbed, and Andriessen-like assertiveness. Personally I prefer the former – it’s 2010: it’s more daring and more interesting not to imitate rock bands (I have the same reaction to Zack Browning’s Venus Notorious, a single-composer collection of “high-energy rock-inspired music”) – but there’s plenty of strangeness too, especially in Medek’s Into the Same River. Hints here of an emerging post-post-minimalism, one that critiques the brash amplification and driving rhythms of the 1990s and early 2000s? The title piece by Jerome Kitzke takes another line, unrolling long, romantic melodies that support a subtly gradated transformation of instrumentation and arrangement.
Beta Collide’s psst … psst! is probably the most interesting collection, though. Most of the tracks are curious objects. And I mean objects rather than pieces of music: they seem to sit somehow apart from their surroundings (I often find this with Rzewski’s music, and Christopher Fox has a similar knack). That’s partly the playing, which, especially in the duet of Rzewski’s Nanosonata no.7 and Mollitude, is almost supernaturally crisp (flautist Molly Barth is formerly of eighth blackbird, and brings their discipline to her direction). And the Radiohead remix? It’s more of a new music karaoke arrangement, with acoustic instruments playing along with Thom Yorke’s voice, but it has its own uncanniness and is definitely one to surprise any ‘head fans among your friends. Here’s a promo video of Beta Collide performing their arrangement of Mysteries of the Macabre:
And, lastly, something of a performer/composer crossover: Panauromni by Psychoangelo. Psychoangelo are the trumpet, computer, guitar and small objects duo of Glen Whitehead and Michael Theodore, both professors at University of Colorado, Boulder. The music is rich in electronically generated noise: occasional trumpet notes are exploded into hazes of sound, as if Miles Davis had really pushed the sonic experiment of Bitches Brew into the purely spectral-sensual erasure of his instrument. A gorgeous, affecting and not at all academic record that nevertheless rewards close attention.
The final part of this extended review will look at some of innova’s recently released archival collections and summarise what I – as an outsider who encounters this whole musical world almost exclusively through his letterbox – makes of it all.