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Monday, April 1, 2013

Cold Blue Two: An Anthology of Contemporary Music

All music in some sense is an answer to a particular set of usually unstated questions. I presume those questions change over time and style sets, for music can be quite variable as we know and different composers-artists at different periods of time can be operating under very different premises compared to some other contrasting period. Or so it seems when taken as a whole.

When one is dealing with "new music," things thought-through very or relatively recently, it may be that the world has not quite caught up with what the artist is saying. Or perhaps the audience is there already but the ideas behind the music have yet to be made fully articulate. Not all music is only understandable by people in some future era, and not every era has universal population coverage for a style of "serious" music, if that ever can be said.

Be all that as it may, it hit me as I have been listening to the new anthology Cold Blue Two (Cold Blue Music 0036) that we may be experiencing a shift in the parameters, and the unstated questions lurking behind some new music today. If so, it is as a subset of the modern world, not as a total supplanting of it, as far as I can hear. The music is not entirely post-modern, in other words, because it exists within, presumes, and in part assumes the "today" of modernity.

Certainly the 14 relatively brief compositions by the 14 composers represented in this collection have something in common. There is tonality, yes, and there can be a certain cyclical use of motifs, though not always for the latter. The fourteen previously unreleased recorded works are not typically "modern" for the most part in the strident sense, nor are they heroically expressive in the neo-romantic sense. It's music somehow more intimate, personal, lived-inside.

Beauty seems to be a concern, for there is a constant kind of tenderness that feels like that throughout. There is also a range of expression but most certainly within that range a bit of melancholy, of contemplation, sometimes a plain-spun kind of naivete, and a sensuous attention to tone without the lushly gushed version that romanticism proffers.

This is music with a cinematic quality. It has a calling-up-of-imagery sense to it. These are soundtracks to a life being lived at the moment, perhaps.

The pieces range from solo piano to chamber ensembles of small-to-medium-small proportions, with and without electronic enhancements. The composers involved are sometimes pretty well-known--Gavin Bryars, Daniel Lentz, James Tenney, and there are somewhat lesser known ones as well--John Luther Adams, Rick Cox, Michael Jon Fink, Jim Fox, Peter Garland, Ingram Marshall, Read Miller, Larry Polansky, David Rosenboom, Phillip Schroeder, Chas Smith.

Performers are all quite up on the music and range from the well known ETHEL and Guy Klusevsek to the composers themselves. All sound right and present themselves to us with excellent fidelity.

The music consistently engages and remains quite accessible without straying at all toward a new-age dumbed-down faux populism. That's quite refreshing.

There's so much in the way of variation within this overall mind-heart-set that I will not try to encapsulate the myriad particulars.

So then what is the unstated question that motivates this music? I am not sure that words do justice to it or if there is enough space to go into it fully. But I will say that "how does it feel to be alive right now?" may be a part of it all. It's not as much about concept and carving new syntaxes that we might hear and sense in new music from later romanticism, the Darmstadt-Cagean and high minimalism forms of classical that are all very much still with us. This music seems different. An extension of folk-nationalism in a way but without necessarily being specific as to which folk and which nation? Perhaps.

At any rate it is music that communicates and shows a most definite human face. It's not so much about technology and technique as it is about how it is like inside the technology, in spite of technology, with perhaps a bit of nostalgia and striving after the simpler forms of a pre-technical existence.

I could be wrong about all that. The main thing however is that this is singular music. Highly recommended.

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