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Underwater Princess Waltz: Collection of One-Page Pieces

Ford / Curran / Wolff / Westendorp
Release Date: 09/10/2013 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80748   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews


FORD Gauss Cannon. CURRAN Underwater Princess Waltz. Her Waltzing with Her. N. & L. DIDKOVSKY Mayhem (the hammer). Mayhem (the arrow). Mayhem (the blade). WOLFF Burdocks: Read more class="ARIAL12">Part VII. POLANSKY _tween (k-tood #2). McCALLUM _round round down. GOODE The Red and White Cows. BROWN December 1952. K. BERGER Time Goes By

Zwerm is a Belgian-Dutch electric guitar quartet (Kobe Van Cauwenberghe, Bruno Nelissen, Johannes Westndorp, and Toon Caller). This may seem novel to many readers, and yes, it’s not common, but on this side of the pond the quartet Dither has been exploring the medium for years now. It’s only natural (and indeed necessary) that one of the most common and popular instruments in the contemporary world should become yet another medium for the aesthetic explorations of concert music.

The concept underlying the album is that all these pieces come from one-page scores. There’s a noble tradition here. Amy Beal in her notes cites Terry Riley’s In C , which is probably the mother of all such, but also James Tenney’s Postcard Pieces (also on New World) are some of the most elegant examples of the form. Their strategies can be multiple: the piece is embodied in an algorithm that describes its generation exactly; musical materials are given with general directions for their realization; verbal instructions only are provided; the score can be entirely graphic with no other instructions; and the piece can be written out in full (and thus usually is quite short, unless there is a repeat sign, à la Satie!). This collection has representatives of all of the above.

Joel Ford’s Gauss Cannon has a pun in its title. It’s a single melody that eventually moves into canonic phasing (and then crazed improvization) amongst its players, but a “Gauss Cannon” is also a sci-fi weapon that creates ever-increasing acceleration through magnetic pull. Alvin Curran is one of the composers living whom I admire the most; his openness to everything, across all stylistic boundaries, remains an inspiration to us all. And somehow, despite its wide pendulum swings from the traditionally beautiful to the most experimental, it remains personal. His two little waltzes are tender and exquisite.

Nickj Didkovsky is most noted as the leader of Dr. Nerve, a band which plays stochastically generated rock. In this set of three one-minute pieces, however, he uses a drawing by his son Leo (full of tween-goth gore) as the stimulus for a set of group improvs. Its stylistic templates are industrial noise, demented roots, and thrashing metal. Despite the macabre imagery, it’s both bracing and a sweet father-son bonding. Christian Wolff’s Burdocks is by now a classic of indeterminate music, a series of 10 etudes each investigating a different creative performance strategy. VII is driven by “relational-improv,” i.e. the players’ actions generate responses, that in turn generate further responses, etc. It’s always different, and I find it always strangely compelling. Larry Polansky’s work is a classic “one-pager” more in the Tenney style: it consists of two two-measure phrases (each highly syncopated) between which the players morph. It’s always the same on the large scale and always different on the small. Clint McCallum’s round round round begins as a Ligeti-esque ascending sequential staircase and then collapses into feedback.

Daniel Goode’s The Red and White Cows is in the “classic algorithmic mode,” closely related to the works of Tom Johnson (who in fact was collaborating with Goode at the time). If Woody Guthrie had written folk music based on mathematical equations, it would definitely sound like this. Earle Brown’s December 1952 is a classic of graphic scores, reproduced in almost every history of the period. It is spare and beautiful in its imagery, and it’s totally up to the player to make something analogously interesting in the sonic realm. Matthias Koole creates a far more continuous-sounding realization than you’d think from the score’s appearance, but then its very openness is the point. Perhaps the sustained “feedbackish” sounds are in fact the white negative space on which are positioned sonic slashes. And finally Karl Berger’s Time Goes By is a repeating chant, enhanced by digital looping, that works up to a freakout climax. It has the feel of a John and Yoko 1970s piece recorded from an Amsterdam bed. It’s sweet and funkily languid, but for me was the one piece that wore out its welcome.

Overall I find this a collection that’s conceptually stimulating, aesthetically diverse, and musically entertaining. I suspect that those already accustomed to the range of postmodern expression and not put off by avant-garde experiment will enjoy it the most. Along with guest soloist Koole (a former Zwerm), Bertel Schollaert joins in on saxophone, and Eric Thielemans on percussion. Thomas Moore is the “deep-cheesy” narrator for the beginning and end of the Goode. Excellent, clean production values, and a great plus is that every score is reproduced in the booklet.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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