Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Kenneth Newby, Elegeia, Music for Mixed Ensembles, Gamelan Semara Dana, Flicker Ensemble

Happy discoveries are part of why I do the blogs. Today one of the most happy lately, that of the music of Kenneth Newby. He contacted me on-line and kindly sent me a number of CDs. They are all quite interesting so I will be covering them in their totality. Today his album Elegeia (FAC 201702), which forms Volume Two of his Emergence Trilogy.

The first thing that strikes me and it does so with a palpable strength is that this is music of recurrent cycles that vary but also make room for figures not part of the cycle per se. The second is that the music that puts circles into tiny orbits is not so much pointillistic as it is Chuck Close-ian in the way there are many mini-geometrics which when heard as a whole form the image of the music in processual terms. This--like a Close portrait--involves the many figurations as joined into a matrix of a singular image if you apprehend the whole as you hear.

There is gamelan/no-gamelan presence in that some of the cells inserted into the larger matrix may have a broadly related gamelan tonality. And then of course the movement for Gamelan Semara Dana interacts directly with gamelan lines transformed and transfixed by Kenneth Newby's present-day musical mind. There is a kind of gamelanic implication to much of the music.

Yet there is a great deal more than that. The presentation of the music often enough is very much Modernistic in presence-absence rhythmic palpability. Given the sound colors evoked and the totality of the hockette-like instrumental interplays in the end is a aural canopy of sound-stars within space-silences, soundscape painting that goes further onward than typical Minimalism by in part realizing a sort of post-Serialist maze building labor that allows the listening mind to breathe-free and so to avoid the trance-through-monotony frame of mind of classical Minimalism. So if I were to label quibble I suppose I might place it both in a New High Modernist and an Ambient Hockette place, supposing that such a wack-a-mole grid actually is present to our synthetic imagination..

The point when all is said and done is that the crafting of the sequences and their fleshing out as specific tones on specific instruments gives us an endlessly fascinating set of sound mobiles both original and model-exemplary. The performances by the Flicker Ensemble and Gamelan Semara Dana are very well situated to the interplay of the music, confidently and appropriately articulated so we get the music in ideal terms.

All of the music on this program interconnects, some more directly than others. There is not-quite-Warholian seriality in "Swarm I" for string octet and "Swarm II" for string octet and brass. "Snark" for muted trumpet and orchestra has a six-movement sequential resonance born of shifting patterns in space.

"Khora for Pauline Oliveros" is mixed ensemble poignancy with well-echo atmospherics and a spatially evocative quality that pivots around a gamelan movement for a sort of near and far familiarity-strangeness that is quite appealing. "Crepuscule for Barbara" for prepared piano and orchestra  resonates with the Thelonious Monk "Crepuscule" without directly referencing it, yet more importantly builds upon Cagean spatial Zen in very interesting ways.

The full impact of this album is felt in later listens yet the music is immediate in its direct communication to the listener. By evidence of this CD I would certainly say that Newby is a definite original that works in musical terrains that have some deep roots in Modernism and the beyond of it in the past 30 or so years.

I strongly recommend this album to anyone wanting to keep conversant with important music happening today. I predict that Newby's stature in New Music will grow steadily in time. He deserves a close hearing.

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