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Monday, October 24, 2011

Steven Mackey, Lonely Motel, Music from Slide

Steven Mackey writes music that is contemporary in the best sense. He combines all manner of stylistic elements: the modern, the minimal and the post-minimal, a world-influenced style, a little rock-metal from his guitar and appropriate instrumentation, some contemporary musical theater elements and modern operatic sounds, all for Lonely Motel, Music from Slide (Cedille 90000 128). Rinde Eckert takes the vocal parts and also has written the libretto. The noted contemporary chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird provides the body of instrumental-musical sound.

What is Slide? A song suite. There are music references (not quotations) to earlier masters and the Beatles. The lyrics center around a psychologist and have a kind of anxious quality. According to Mr. Mackey, they are "about the isolation created by the attachments we develop to our own fuzzy, personal views of reality."

This is the world premiere recording and all give an excellent performance of a work that needs time to assimilate. Instrumentally there is much to appreciate; the writing is original and diverse, detailed and broadly dramatic. The vocal part (and its performance) has a half-theater, half-modern-chamber-opera sort of vibe to it. It took a number of listens to this aspect particularly to start appreciating it. This is not music for someone who listens only once and expects to get it all before moving on to the next. That will not work with Slide.

At this early stage in the work's reception I must say that it has the makings of something that will be listened to and appreciated years hence. Or perhaps it wont. Either way it is an example of a new synthesis in concert music, a synthesis of some of the sounds we come upon today as serious listeners. A very good example. Those who wish to know where things stand these days should most definitely give this work a close listen.

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