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Musica Elettronica Viva - 1967-2007 / Curran, Rzewski, Et Al


Release Date: 12/09/2008 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80675   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Frederic RzewskiAllan BryantCarol PlantamuraAlvin Curran,   ... 
Number of Discs: 4 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



MUSICA ELETTRONICA VIVA—MEV 40 Frederic Rzewski (pn, electronics); 1–7 Alvin Curran (electronics, voc, tpt); 1–7 Richard Teitelbaum (electronics); 1–7 Allen Bryant (electronics); 1 Steve Lacy (s sax); 3,4,6 Garrett List (trb); 2,3,4,5,6 Ivan Lindor (t sax); Read more class="SUPER12">1 Carol Plantamura (voc); 1 Gregory Reeve (perc); 2 Karl Berger (marimbaphone); 2 George Lewis (trb) 6 NEW WORLD 80675 (4 CDs: 4:52:07)


Spacecraft. 1 Stop the War. 2 Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. 3 New Music America Festival. 4 Kunstmuseum, Bern. 5 Ferrara, Italy. 6 Mass. Pike 7


One of the things you immediately feel from looking at the booklet pictures accompanying this collection is, “Ah, to be young and free in Rome in the 1960s!” Musica Elettronica Viva (“Live Electronic Music,” or perhaps “Electronic Music Lives!”) was a collective based around three composer-performers: Frederic Rzewski, Alvin Curran, and Richard Teitelbaum. Strolling up the Piazza Navona or deep in a crypt-like studio, their hair wild, long, and frizzy, our three heroes look like the experimentalist version of the rock stars dominating the culture at the time. Within their circle also clustered a free-floating group of creative musicians, inspired by an anarchic and idealistic vision. The group’s Roman heyday was relatively short, c. 1967–70, before the core members began to split off into individual projects and careers. But they have maintained collaborations for four decades now, and have morphed into an exceptional ensemble, a type of living, roving lab for their personal aesthetic experiments, and as an example of their philosophy of a music without boundaries, without hierarchies.


Rzewski is of course one of the greatest composer-pianists of the age, “our Chopin.” Curran has written one of the most wide-ranging, eclectic, and fertile bodies of work around, and refuses to choose between experimentalism and modernism, seeing both as part of his palette. Teitelbaum has been from the outset one of the most unrelenting investigators of real-time electronic performance, having written a number of staples in this repertoire. MEV was fortunate to have these composers as their core, because they were fine and fearless performers, whose musicianship matched their imagination.


The early years of the ensemble were by far the most experimental, using found objects and a “do it yourself” aesthetic to create screeching and chaotic sound canvasses. The first piece on the collection, Spacecraft , dates from 1967 and is the closest to a “wall of sound” on this release. It was recorded at Berlin’s Akademie der Kunst, and one hears many in the audience voicing their displeasure and anguish at the proceedings. But after this, the recordings show MEV transforming into something more rigorous, but also potentially far more influential.


By 1972, the piece Stop the War (recorded at WBAI’s studios in New York) includes trombonist Garrett List, who brings a decidedly jazz sensibility into the mix. And Rzewski, after initially disavowing the piano as too bourgeois, thankfully returns to his roots, and lets loose his virtuosity (not to mention his encyclopedic “finger-knowledge” of folk music and classical repertoire). Soon after, the soprano saxist Steve Lacy joins the group; Lacy was one of the greatest progressive jazz composer-performers of the last third of the 20th century, and his compositions are mixed into the group pieces, to superb effect. The three composers, plus these two wind-players, became the core of the group until Lacy’s death in 2004.


MEV is, in retrospect, profoundly influential, and these recordings will make that influence even more widespread on young musicians who know the name and reputation, but all too little of the work. Three things make the group important:


It is one of the most successful founts of free improvisation—though in fact the term “structured improvisation” could be just as easily applied. This is a growing, and flourishing scene, blending elements of the jazz and experimental tradition. MEV is perhaps the prototype for this sort of music, so common now in Downtown practice.


It, of course, combines said improvisatory aesthetic with the idea that electronic music is not meant to be “fixed” (i.e., on a tape), but generated live from instruments in the manner any musician would make music in concert. Along the way, they’ve kept up with all the generations of equipment, and now software. They are among the first to make electronic instruments a natural part of any performing ensemble.


Finally, despite these pioneering aspects, music always came first. These “experiments” were always in the service of discovery, and even beauty. It’s worth noting that the electronic component, especially after the initial years, is quite tastefully integrated into the whole. To take just one example, in the 1982 Stedelijk Museum piece, I noticed Rzewski’s piano seeming to morph—he apparently moved to a prepared instrument, which in turn starts to sound processed, and then clouds of related sounds begin to surround it, which must come from Curran’s and/or Teitelbaum’s synthesizers. In short, it’s a smooth timbral modulation. The sense of democracy between the acoustic and electronic sounds is an essential part of what keeps the music fresh and interesting.


I thought, when starting this review, that this might be quite a slog. Almost five hours of post-Cageian improv—kind of a daunting prospect. But I found myself fascinated by the sounds, tickled by the wit (and slapstick), and impressed by the way the music repeatedly found renewal over large spans (the pieces on average are about 45 minutes apiece, though the Stedelijk concert is an hour and a half, and the Ferrara concert over an hour. The 2007 Tanglewood appearance ( Mass. Pike ) is about 10, on the other hand, and doesn’t suffer from its brevity either). It’s not that MEV had elaborate structural plans, but they did have ideas they could call upon, and they had chops. For instance, there’s a grand moment in the Ferrara set where a trombone (List or Lewis, I don’t know), begins to repeat a plaintive line that’s like a chaconne, and everyone coalesces around it. It’s harmonically rich and contrapuntally rich. And then Rzewski takes off on a solo from this material that’s stunning. The best of jazz and classical and experimental merge at moments like these.


This certainly won’t be for everyone, and I wouldn’t suggest listening straight through in one sitting to anyone! But it’s a window into an important moment in the development of several new practices, and for young musicians in search of adventurous roots, it’s a must. The booklet, with excellent notes by musicologist David Bernstein, and statement/reminiscences by all three founding composers, is a helpful archival adjunct. Probably a Want List item.


FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

1.
Spacecraft by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Frederic Rzewski (Electronics), Allan Bryant (Electronics), Carol Plantamura (Soprano),
Alvin Curran (Piano), Alvin Curran (Electronics), Frederic Rzewski (Piano),
Ivan Vandor (Tenor Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Notes: This work was composed in collaboration with Allan Bryant, Alvin Curran, Carol Plantamura, and Ivan Vandor.  
2.
Stop the War by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Alvin Curran (Piano), Frederic Rzewski (Electronics), Karl Berger (Marimbaphone),
Richard Teitelbaum (Electronics), Alvin Curran (Electronics), Frederic Rzewski (Piano),
Garrett List (Trombone), Gregory Reeve (Percussion)
Period: 20th Century 
Notes: This work was composed in collaboration with Karl Berger, Alvin Curran, Garrett List, Gregory Reeve, and Richard Teitelbaum.  
3.
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Part 1 by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Alvin Curran (Electronics), Alvin Curran (Piano), Frederic Rzewski (Electronics),
Frederic Rzewski (Piano), Richard Teitelbaum (Electronics), Steve Lacy (Soprano Saxophone),
Garrett List (Trombone)
Period: 20th Century 
Notes: This work was composed in collaboration with Alvin Curran, Steve Lacy, Garrett List, and Richard Teitelbaum. 
4.
Kunstmuseum, Bern by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Richard Teitelbaum (Electronics), Frederic Rzewski (Electronics), Alvin Curran (Piano),
Alvin Curran (Electronics), Frederic Rzewski (Piano), Garrett List (Trombone)
Period: 20th Century 
Notes: This work was composed in collaboration with Alvin Curran, Garrett List, and Richard Teitelbaum. 
5.
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Part 2 by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Frederic Rzewski (Piano), Alvin Curran (Electronics), Alvin Curran (Piano),
Frederic Rzewski (Electronics), Richard Teitelbaum (Electronics), Steve Lacy (Soprano Saxophone),
Garrett List (Trombone)
Period: 20th Century 
Notes: This work was composed in collaboration with Alvin Curran, Steve Lacy, Garrett List, and Richard Teitelbaum. 
6.
New Music America Festival by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Frederic Rzewski (Piano), Alvin Curran (Electronics), Alvin Curran (Piano),
Frederic Rzewski (Electronics), Richard Teitelbaum (Electronics), Steve Lacy (Soprano Saxophone),
Garrett List (Trombone)
Period: 20th Century 
Notes: This work was composed in collaboration with Alvin Curran, Steve Lacy, Garrett List, and Richard Teitelbaum. 
7.
Ferrara, Italy by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Steve Lacy (Soprano Saxophone), Richard Teitelbaum (Electronics), Frederic Rzewski (Electronics),
Alvin Curran (Piano), Alvin Curran (Electronics), Frederic Rzewski (Piano),
Garrett List (Trombone), George Lewis (Trombone)
Period: 20th Century 
Notes: This work was composed in collaboration with Alvin Curran, Steve Lacy, George Lewis, Garrett List, and Richard Teitelbaum. 
8.
Mass. Pike by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Frederic Rzewski (Piano), Alvin Curran (Electronics), Alvin Curran (Piano),
Frederic Rzewski (Electronics), Richard Teitelbaum (Electronics)
Period: 20th Century 
Notes: This work was composed in collaboration with Alvin Curran and Richard Teitelbaum. 

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