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Dramm: The Stroke That Kills; Beglarian, Curran, Fiday, Matamoros, Johnson / Seth Josel

Release Date: 12/09/2008 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80661-2   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Eve BeglarianAlvin CurranMichael FidayDavid Dramm,   ... 
Performer:  Seth Josel
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

THE STROKE THAT KILLS Seth Josel (gtr) NEW WORLD 80661 (61:14)

BEGLARIAN Until It Blazes. CURRAN Strum City I, II, III. FIDAY Slapback. DRAMM The Stroke that Kills. MATAMOROS Stoned Guitar/TIG Welder. Read more class="COMPOSER12">JOHNSON Canon for 6 Guitars

Since its invention in the 1930s, the electric guitar has played an essential role in both jazz and popular music. In recent years, it’s also attracted classical composers—especially the younger ones—who relish its rock-and-roll associations, at the same time using it to express ideas about sound and the evolution of new forms of music. Although some composers have written for the electric guitar in stimulating and musically attractive ways—I’m thinking particularly of Steve Mackey; there are others who delight in excessive volume and irritating timbres. I was consequently a bit apprehensive about listening to this CD, and sure enough, some of these pieces can be hard to take, battering the listener with crushing repetition and grungy, gritty guitar tone. I’m not a heavy-metal fan and don’t like noise or electronic feedback, and while I’ve sometimes achieved a Cageian appreciation of ambient sounds, I’m not willing to accept every aural artifact as musical. However, even when I disliked the timbres or the composers’ fixations, the pieces left a strong impression, and in retrospect I wondered if less truculent sounds would have been as effective.

Beglarian’s Until It Blazes is a deceptive opener, as it’s an easy-on-the ears duet for guitar and stereo delay. Such electronic gizmos allow instrumentalists to build layers of phrases that would otherwise be impossible to perform in real time. In Until It Blazes , the performer chooses where to accent the line, with different decisions supposedly creating new melodies; in theory, each performance brings forth a new piece. The music’s concentration on pattern, repetition, and subtle variation shows a minimalist influence. True to its name, Curran’s Strum City I, II, III is an essay on strumming, with each movement varying the speed with which a strum’s component tones are played. Strum City I is energetic, rapidly piling on successive layers of chords. Some late-appearing bass lines somehow soften the texture, and the piece acquires a shimmering, hypnotic quality that could be absorbing if you’re in the right frame of mind, stressful if you’re not. Strum City II and III slow the tempo and allow the individual tones to bloom in a spare, meditative way; the simple concept brings forth surprisingly beautiful music. Fiday’s Slapback is a raucous, rhythmically complex, blues-inflected piece. It’s probably fun to see performed. At around five minutes, the sound becomes more “normal” and delicate by comparison, if still obsessive. The piece vehemently concludes in a furious assault tempered with bluesy solos. Dramm’s The Stroke that Kills takes explosive flamenco strumming to another level; a few lighter-plucked episodes notwithstanding, I’m not enough of a masochist to find the pounding pleasurable. Interesting as an idea, but the reality is numbing. Matamoros’s Stoned Guitar/TIG Welder (a piece with two simultaneously played parts) is a spacey composition in which unusual, oscillating sounds float through the ether. Partially named for the TIG Welder (an external electronics device), the piece combines pre-recorded sounds with Stoned Guitar to create, in note writer Alan Tormey’s words, “a true collaborative relationship with the performer.” The score is not conventionally notated but instead consists of the following instructions: “With a stone, trace the strings of the guitar slowly from bridge to nut.” The amplified scraping and sliding generates a futuristic sound suited to astral voyages. Johnson’s Canon for Six Guitars follows a hesitant, stuttering trajectory. It has a machine-made quality, as if written by a canonically infatuated computer. At least its moderate length (4:56) doesn’t overly try one’s patience, and the timbre, while hardly soothing, is not too distorted. The piece projects a slightly demented charm at odds with its rigorous construction.

Seth Josel is completely at home in this alternate guitar universe, as sensitive to its lyrical moments as he is to its aggressive qualities. If you’re tempted to explore the growing repertoire for electric guitar and you’re not put off by my reservations about rough timbres or occasionally punishing volume, then this is a CD worth your hearing.

FANFARE: Robert Schulslaper
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Works on This Recording

Until it blazes by Eve Beglarian
Performer:  Seth Josel (Electric 6-Str. Gtr.)
Strum City by Alvin Curran
Performer:  Seth Josel (Electric 6-Str. Gtr.)
Period: 20th Century 
Slapback by Michael Fiday
Performer:  Seth Josel (Electric 6-Str. Gtr.)
The stroke that kills by David Dramm
Performer:  Seth Josel (Electric 6-Str. Gtr.)
Stoned guitar/TIG welder by Gustavo Matamoros
Performer:  Seth Josel (Electric 6-Str. Gtr.)
Period: 20th Century 
Canon for 6 Guitars by Tom Johnson
Performer:  Seth Josel (Electric 6-Str. Gtr.)
Period: 20th Century 

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