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Lockwood: In Our Name / Buckner, Mook, Winant, Fattal

Lockwood / Buckner / Mook / Norderval
Release Date: 06/12/2012 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80729  
Composer:  Annea Lockwood
Performer:  David BehrmanJohn KingWilliam WiinantThomas Buckner,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

LOCKWOOD Jitterbug. In Our Name. Thirst David Behrman (zither, psalter, rattle, rainstick, processing); John King (electric guitar, va, processing); William Winant (perc); Thomas Buckner (bs); Theodore Mook (vc); Simone Fattal (nar); Kristin Noderval (sop) NEW WORLD 80729-2 (60:32 Text and Translation)

Annea Lockwood (b.1939) is closely identified with the American experimentalist school; her music emphasizes improvisation, long-held tones, electronics, and concrete sound recordings, to mention a few Read more aspects. Most evident, however, is her deep involvement with ecology, both natural and musical, to a degree that these terms blend seamlessly into one another. Her most notable work remains a series of electroacoustic “maps” she has made of rivers (the Hudson, Housatonic, and Danube) that follow each through a sequence of specific, characteristic sounds. Lockwood obviously finds fundamental inspiration in nature, and even if a piece of hers does not involve field recordings, its flow of events and their interrelations seem derived from the natural world.

This disc presents three very different works, which display the composer’s range. Jitterbug (2007) has actually appeared in abbreviated form recently on another New World release, Music for Merce (80712-2), which I reviewed in Fanfare 34:6. The piece consists of a series of recordings of insect sounds, which are marvelously varied and bizarre in their blend of the percussive and lyrical. Added to these in the electroacoustic mix are sounds of bowed gongs and low piano notes. Finally, three live musicians improvise in response to both that soundtrack and a graphic score made from photographs of patterned creek stones from the Rocky Mountains.

In Our Name (2009–10) is an impassioned cycle of three poems (performed without pause) from Guantanamo detainees. Thomas Buckner narrates the outer two texts, and sings the middle in a more traditional lyrical manner. The (amplified/processed) cello part includes powerful drones and outbreaks of noise. Another striking aspect is the use of a small loudspeaker in the singer’s mouth, which can produce quite wrenching and shocking micro-feedback on cue.

Finally, Thirst (2008) is an electroacoustic piece that blends sounds of the New York subway, pages of medieval manuscripts turning in the New York Public Library, a Balkan love song, floating electronic tones, and the sound of water. It’s held together by a series of reminiscences by the painter Simone Fattal of her grandfather’s house in Damascus.

There’s the description. For me, these works vary in their impact; much as I admire Lockwood’s work and adventurous spirit, I find this a mixed bag, with only one of the pieces a true success. Jitterbug is continually diverting, and as a dance piece, I suspect it more than fulfills its function. I’m attracted to its sound world, but frankly the insect sounds are far more engaging to me than those of the acoustic instruments; I rather wish the whole piece could be made from them alone, and Lockwood does have the chops to pull that off. It also tends to eschew any sort of perceptible formal arc, instead consisting of a series of sustained moments. There’s plenty of music like that, of course; it’s a tradition in its own right. It’s just that without the dance, it’s not truly compelling for me.

In Our Name I am sure packs a wallop in performance, and I certainly applaud and agree with its political and humanistic impulse. But it’s also a little too melodramatic for my taste, and again, I rather wish the most radical elements (like the “mouth-speaker”) could have predominated. For me, it would be more powerful and irresistible, the more radical the approach to this searing and unsettling material.

Thirst , on the other hand, I find a genuinely moving, memorable, and balanced work of art. It shouldn’t work, as the sound sources on the surface don’t seem to have much to do with one another. But the sense of contrast between the hubbub of contemporary life and the idealized memories of a foreign childhood somehow justify the juxtapositions. Fattal’s narration is also delightful, her humor and love of life infectious. Though I have no way of proving this, the presence of the theme of water in this piece seems to tap into something fundamental and real in Lockwood’s creative imagination.

For me, it’s one for three. All the musicians acquit themselves with deep musicality and commitment; there’s nothing in the performances to detract from the composer’s intentions. But I also must emphasize that while I feel the other two pieces fall short, they are still worthy. My reaction comes from feeling that Lockwood has set the bar very high by her life’s work, and I am wishing for something ever more intense, extreme, and radical from her, something to amaze me.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Jitterbug by Annea Lockwood
Performer:  David Behrman (Electronics/Zither/Psalter), John King (Electric Guitar/Viola), William Wiinant (Percussion)
Written: 2007 
In Our Name by Annea Lockwood
Performer:  Thomas Buckner (Baritone), Theodore Mook (Cello)
Written: 2009-2010 
Thirst by Annea Lockwood
Performer:  Kristin Norderval (Soprano), Simone Fattal (Narrator)
Written: 2008 

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