I’ll admit there wasn’t much of a plan to this when I started out. Whereas with Long Shadows I started from a particular sound world (ringing harmonics, bell-tones, thick textures), in this mix I sort of improvised and let a plan reveal itself as I went along. Basically it all came together through experiment and road testing; if it sounded like it worked, it stayed. The mix was put together using some pretty basic technology – a stack of CDs, a virtual stack of MP3s, a few ripped LPs – with the whole lot mixed in Audacity. No tempo shifts, no EQ twiddles, no pitch shifts – just careful placement and judicious fade-in/outs. Hopefully track selection and juxtaposition is enough.
Mixing avant-classical stuff is a bit unusual, and without many examples for comparison (if anyone knows where I can get a copy of Murcof’s demo mix tape from back in 2002, I think, please let me know!) I’m still feeling my way a bit. The first thing is that usual concerns such as tempo and key go out of the window. On the whole you’re not dealing with beats – and even when you are, it’s not music that was meant to be beatmatched – and you’re not usually dealing with a straightforward sense of key. So don’t worry about these things. What you do have, however, is a particularly acute sense of musical pacing and momentum. This is hard to pin down, and plenty of the pieces I wanted to include didn’t have it. Those that are here, however, do, and it’s something I tried to preserve even as I trampled across every other aspect of these compositions. What results is a kind of polyphony, with the tracks often pulling or pushing against each other, but meeting at certain points to create a form that is bigger than themselves.
One other thing. For people subscribing to these podcasts who may not have come across much contemporary classical music before: although I’ve juggled things around here to keep a constant energy and momentum running through the mix, there’s been very little compromise on track selection. What you hear on this mix is a fairly representative cross-section of contemporary classical music from the last 30-40 years. Hope you enjoy it.
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Got it yet? OK, here are your sleevenotes…
[0:00] Nobukazu Takemura: Conical Flask
[0:45] Read Miller: Mile Zero Hotel
[1:40] Harold Budd, Ruben Garcia, Daniel Lentz: Iris
A slow building, chilled-out kind of start. I’ve not checked but I’m pretty certain Takemura’s Conical Flask is an epic work-out on a sample chord from Steve Reich’s Four Organs. What plans I did have before I started involved three different angles on Four Organs – this, the original work, and the Berkeley 1970 concert by the Steve Reich ensemble as preserved on archive.org. This has a great little segment with Reich recording sceptical audience members for a version of My Name Is, with Four Organs in soundcheck in the background. But it never really happened.
Read Miller’s Mile Zero Hotel, from the essential Cold Blue compilation, is a typical piece of his, with overlapping spoken recitations from a collection of letters sent from ‘Miriam’ on a trip around Canada. ‘Iris’, from Music for Three Pianos, sets up a couple of the strands which did end up running through the mix. There are lots of piano sounds for one, and as a conceit on my part each of Budd, Garcia and Lentz get big solo spots at some point later on.
[2:42] John Adams: Phrygian Gates
[3:17] Krzysztof Penderecki: Actions
[5:51] Brian Ferneyhough: Kurze Schatten II
The pulsating piano introduction to John Adams’s epic Phrygian Gates creeps up from around 2:40 and is the foundation for the next five or six minutes. The overlap with Actions was an experiment that came off first go. The first trombone note after the harmonic shift in the Adams just kills me: who’d have thought a Polish avant-jazz experiment would sit so well with gentle West Coast minimalism? The free jazz stylings of Actions morph nicely into the hyper-organised guitar splatter of Ferneyhough’s Kurze Schatten II. German speakers might notice a weak self-referential pun here.
[6:12] Gérard Grisey: Faux interlude, La mort de la humanité: Quatre chants pour franchir le seul
[7:25] John Cage: 103, part 2
[7:32] John Adams: Hymns and Slews: Shaker Loops
[8:12] A Produce and Ruben Garcia: Last Chance
[9:12] Krzysztof Penderecki: String Quartet no.1
[11:26] Witold Szalonek: Three Sketches, nos.1 and 2
[12:26] Boguslaw Schäffer: Quartet 2+2
A long section that slowly collapses into more and more splintered, fractured sounds. Grisey’s percussion rolls have been lurking low in the mix for a while already, and as Phrygian Gates gets increasingly agitated it is slowly overwhelmed by these and the heavy, sliding drones of Cage’s 103 and Adams’s Shaker Loops. This recording of 103, under Petr Kotik, is a controversial one, and perhaps not truly Cageian, but despite/because of this it makes a good fit alongside Adams’ loops. While Ruben Garcia provides the keyboards, three Polish sonorists pile in with scratches, squeaks, thunks, bells, whistles and a twee little piano chorale. The Szalonek is from Polskie Nagrania’s 6-disc commemoration of the Warsaw Autumn Contemporary Music Festival, an interesting artifact, but a pretty uneven selection of works of which this is one of the best. The Schäffer (no relation to Pierre) comes from a much more consistent LP (Polskie Nagrania SXL 0573) showcasing the Warsztat Muzyczny (Music Workshop) ensemble of the late 60s, who helped keep avant garde experiment alive in Poland once sonorism began to wear thin.
[11:37] György Ligeti: Etude no.1
[13:20] Henryk Górecki: Symphony no.2 ‘Copernican’, 2nd movt
[16:50] La Monte Young: The Well-Tempered Piano
Underneath all this chaos, as someone kicks a set of bells around the room, then tries to set fire to the stage (how it sounds to me…), wheezes Ligeti’s sickly, vacuum cleaner-powered pipe organ, out of which emerges the langorous music-of-the-spheres sonority of Górecki’s 2nd Symphony to round off this East European interlude. Further jangly harmonics are supplied by the non-East Euro La Monte Young.
[19:55] Harold Budd: Coyote: The White Arcades
[20:50] Olivier Messiaen: Jardin du sommeil d’amour: Turangalîla-Symphonie
[22:02] Daniel Lentz: Dancing on the Sun
[23:45] György Ligeti: Lontano
[27:45] Hans Otte: XI: Das Buch der Klänge
Harold Budd’s Coyote announces the beginning of the central third of the mix. Young’s Well-Tempered Piano is still clattering around, and is played off against a second item from the Cold Blue series, Daniel Lentz’s Dancing on the Sun. Messiaen’s langorous ‘Garden of Love’s Sleep’ and the desert terrain of Ligeti’s Lontano provide underlay, and this piano-dominated sequence is rounded off with a movement from Hans Otte’s highly recommended Buch der Klänge on ECM.
[28:50] Miro Bázlik: Simple Electronic Symphony
[29:50] Morton Feldman: Four Pianos
[30:30] Pauline Oliveros: Beautiful Soop
[30:40] Ivo Malec: Dahovi II
[33:05] Kenneth Kirschner: June 18, 1995
The central section is mostly electronica, with Feldman’s Four Pianos acting as constant through this section and the next. The Oliveros is a classic; the Malec and Bázlik are less well-known but equally worth seeking out. Kirschner is an electronic composer who releases all his music through his website via a Creative Commons license, and it’s well worth exploring.
[35:15] Laszlo Melis: Etude for Three Mirrors
[36:45] Tadeusz Baird: Voices from Afar
Hungarian minimalism plays off against Polish expressionism, and slowly pulls us out of the dark heart of the mix. Two composers the world should know much more about: the vocal-orchestral Baird comes from a 2 CD set of collected works available on import from the US; the chunky Euro-minimal Melis is from a CD by the Hungarian ensemble Group 180 (and comes backed with some excellent Rzewski recordings).
[41:00] Jaap Vink: Screen
[41:30] Jack Body: Long-ge
Long-ge, by the Composer Who Sounds Most Like He Should be a House Producer is a neat little string thing that doesn’t stick around for long, and with Jaap Vink’s jet-plane Screen from the Philips Electronic Panorama – Utrecht LP it forms a transition into the finale…
[44:30] Murcof: Ulysses: Utopía
[44:30] Arvo Pärt: Passio
[53:45] Arvo Pärt: Symphony no.2
… Which is an Arvo Pärt three-way. Murcof comes in as a second minimalism-sampling electronica counterbalance to Takemura from the start of the set. His gorgeous ‘Ulysses’ is backed by the work it so heavily samples – Pärt’s St John Passion. The two together provide the obligatory ‘palate-cleansing’ end to the mix, but with a twist as the finale to Pärt’s Second Symphony, from his less well-known, but much more interesting early period rounds things off in unexpected style.