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Litany for the Whale
Theatre of Voices
John Cage, Paul Hillier, Terry Riley
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907187

Paul Hillier is mostly known for his performances of early music, although he has recorded the music of Ingram Marshall, minimalist composer Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt and others. On this CD by radical avant gard American composer John Cage (1912 – 1992), Hillier is joined by his ensemble Theatre of Voices and special guest early minimalist Terry Riley. There’s a wide range of vocal music by Cage on this disc.

A pastoral duet between Theatre of Voices members Alan Bennett and Paul Elliott on Litany for the Whale opens the disc. 26 minutes of Cageian vocalese based on the word whale where two voices sound as one. I listened to this piece a few times and read the liner notes before I realized there was more than one person singing.

Aria No. 2 starts with thunder and a kiss, Paul Hillier explores vowels and consonants from five languages: Armenian, Russian, Italian, French and English. On the late Cage piece, Five, five voices blend harmoniously. Hillier’s solo voice on The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs is accompanied by closed piano. One can hear him tapping about on the piano while singing text from Finnegan’s Wake. Solo for Voice from Songbooks, is split up between two performers who make textural breathing sounds that are in turn electronically processed.

Soloist Andrea Fullington sings Experiences No.2 based on e.e cummings “III,” Sonnets-Unrealities, Tulips and Chimneys (1923). This sweet ballad serves as an introduction to conversational tone of: Mesostics re and not re Marcel Duchamp as performed by Paul Hillier and Terry Riley. Back and forth: Riley recites and Hillier sings through various digital sound processing devices.

Aria (for Cathy Berberian) is a theatrical festival for seven voices and electronics. Hillier arranged the piece for multiple voices to cover the different vocal styles. The electronics give the listener an added colorful element of enviroment . Bells, breaking glass, water, the surf and other sounds illustrate the work.

A satisfying and frequently unpredictable survey of Cage’s vocal music as performed by Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices. Highly recommended.

David Beardsley
7/22/98

Originally published online at Juxtaposition Ezine.

Catler Bros.
Knitting Factory Alterknit Theater, New York, N.Y.
March 16, 1997

Just Intonation is a way of tuning instruments to intervals of whole number ratios. This is common in most non-western musical traditions. When mass production of the piano was started in the 1800’s, tuning was standardized to 12 tone equal temperament in the western world. In this century, modern post-classical composers like Harry Partch, La Monte Young and Ivor Darreg showed the way for composers interested in expanding their musical resources beyond 12 tet tuning.

At the Knit, Jon Catler, Brad Catler and Jonathan Kane showed that these tuning concepts can be used in the loose improvisational context of rock and jazz fusion. Not the lame Love Boat/Doctor’s office fusion of Kenny G. but a loose fusion of East/West jazz & Hendrix blues rock. Sort of like-raga-but-not-raga: modal.

The majority of the set was filled with tunes from the new Catler Bros. Crash Landing cd. Using a guitar with interchangeable fret boards, Jon Catler played mostly frettless guitar and occasionally 49 tone just intonation fretted guitar. Brad Catler played fretless bass with a truly gritty rock and roll tone and Jonathan Kane provided rock solid drumming through out the set.

For me, one of the revelations of the evening was Jon’s extended solos on fretless guitar. Apparently his fingerboard is made of steel like the Indian sarod. This enables him to get a harder tone than I’ve heard from guitars with a wood fingerboard. He could control feedback in a unique way by sliding around. Unlike a guitar with a vibrato arm where the strings go slack and the strings change tone, the strings on a fretless instrument retain their tone. Two of the non-album tunes covered by the band were Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing and Ornette Coleman’s Free.

The Catler Bros. have been around New York for years with their own special blend of tuning and guitars. This version of the band is also known as La Monte Young’s Forever Bad Blues Band appearing on Just Stompin’: Live at the Kitchen (Grammavision). Both Jon and Brad have been frequent performers at the American Festival of Microtonal Music and will return for this season’s concert series. In April 1997, Jon Catler will be playing Harry Partch’s original Adapted Guitars I & II in the Newband’s production of Oedipus at the Modern Museum of Art.

David Beardsley
Originally published online at Juxtaposition Ezine.

Kientzy Plays Johnson
(Pogus 21033-2)

Tom Johnson, born in Colorado in 1939, received B. A. and M. Music degrees from Yale University, and studied composition privately with Morton Feldman. After 15 years in New York, he moved to Paris, where he has lived since 1983. He is considered a minimalist, since he works with simple forms, limited scales, and generally reduced materials, but he proceeds in a more logical way than most minimalists, often using formulas, permutations, and predictable sequences.

Daniel Kientzy (Perigueux, France, 1951) plays the entire saxophone family, from the sopranino to the huge contrabass. Playing alto with a recording of six alto saxophones, (one section is on baritone) Kientzy Loops is, like most of the disk, is a chance to check out the amazing sound of the saxophone. Since the compositional approach is minimal with simple repeated cells and/or some kind of additive system, I get lost in the sound of the horns. Damm, they sound amazing. La Tortue de Mer is a short three minute melody performed on the contrabass and based on a mathematical sequence noticed by Marc Chemillier and used by the people of Vanuatu in the South Pacific in geometrical Turtle drawings. Narayana’s Cows: starting with one cow and her offspring, Johnson explains how 14 century mathematician Narayana described cows multiplying while Kientzy demonstrates on multitracked horns, each note representing a cow. Melodies get longer and longer in Infinite Melodies and remind me again how great this recording sounds. Plus I like the simplicity of minimalism.

David Beardsley
2004

Originally published in the Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter.

Robert Poss
Crossing Casco Bay
(Trace Elements 1022002)

Casco Bay is the companion CD to Distortion is Truth by ex-Band of Susans guitarist Robert Poss. It starts of with some longer pieces: Crossing Casco Bay is track of droning pulsating synthesizers
twitching away for a third of an hour. Equally lengthy is Drift was recorded live at Experimental Intermedia, NYC. Poss (bowed electric bass, oscillators) is joined by Kato Hideki (double bass) and Susan Stenger (baritone guitar) for amazing drifting drones that pan around the stereo spectrum. A short piece, Daybreak in Hanga Roa sounds like a location recording – crickets or frogs, water. the chill zone, but not for long. The wacky Theme for an Imaginary Car Commercial twitches along with the theme on analog synths and a drum machine for a few minutes. And lastly, Throne of Blood (Reprise) lays down a groove with tabla and a sinister bass line that are foundation to guitar and synth overdubs, a repeating melody that rotates off into the sunset. The trip across Casco Bay has been very interesting. It’s good to hear what Robert Poss has been up to lately.

David Beardsley
February 2002

Originally published in the Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter.

There’s a lot of Igor Stravinsky in my collection, I’m still working on checking it all out. Here’s something I wish I had on CD.

  • “Tribute to late Russian-American giant features rendition of entire “Firebird” ballet as played on piano by Stravinsky. Also on the program is the Duo Concertant for violin and piano, Norwegian Moods, and Le sacre du printemps. Broadcast one day after Stravinsky’s death.”

listen here.

I only have a few minutes, so here’s a rare new post.

I went on a Cecil Taylor binge a few weeks ago, bought a bunch of albums and listened to them at least once or more. Then life got in the way and I’m looking for the right moment to lend the man my ears again. But for now…here’s something I haven’t heard in years: Cecil Taylor with Tony Williams. Is there more evidence of this rare meeting? Where is it???

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