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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

David Smooke, Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

David Smooke exhibits his very personal approach via a new release that documents six of his compositions. Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death (New Focus Recordings 173) lets us dwell at length on his avant garde new music, which retains the joy of discovery that high modernism has always espoused, but moves it along in very personal directions, using abstract sound to convey the feeling of physical journeys via configurations from large ensembles to chamber music and solo.

The title work is scored as a concerto for toy piano (Smooke) and the Peabody Wind Ensemble under Harlan Parker. It translates into music a series of tiny sculpted figures used in the Office of the Medical Examiner of Maryland to train staff in forensic science. It is a work of genuine interest and drama.

"Transgenic Fields, dusk" for solo piano expresses a long, slowly unwinding melody to overarch a series of constantly modulatiing harmonies.

"A Baby Bigger Grows Than Up Was, Vol. 1: A to Breathing"  and "Some Details of Hell" concentrate on solo vocals, small chamber ensembles and vivid text to portray language learning in the former and the sudden loss of a loved one in the latter.

"" concentrates on a solo toy piano and a looping pedal to realize kaleidoscopic landscapes of a vividly colorful nature.

"21 Miles to Coolville" was inspired by an actual sign the composer saw continually near his apartment in Ohio. The music depicts an imaginary journey to a cool place. Multiple bassoons bring the music to us.

The program takes us on a kind of whirlwind tour of the varied sonic possibilities Smooke realizes for our contemplation. It is a music of adventure, a future-in-the-present.


Those readers who reside in the NY area may want to check out a special night at National Sawdust devoted to David Smooke's music--featuring selections and performers from this album. It all happens this January 22nd at 7pm. For more info go to

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