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Thursday, March 18, 2021

James Caldwell, Pocket Music, Concrete Miniatures 1998-2020


Early Electronic and Musique Concrete flourished of course in part by the complexity and novelty of the aural colors the artists painstakingly built up out of transformations and generations of heretofore unheard of possibilities. With the advent of synthesizers in some ways the music was akin to the idea in organ music--that there were preset "stops" and composing became in part a matter of the building of form within the available sound parameters. This is a gross simplification but true in the broadest senses.

With the recent album Pocket Music:Concrete Miniatures 1998-2020 (Neuma 135), James Caldwell  gives us in a fascinating series of very short to mid-length miniatures a revived sense of possibility in transforming acoustic sounds to timbral openings onto newly regenerative sonic universes. The infinite number of transformations possible for any given soundset gives us tantalizing pause. Like abstraction in painting there is sometimes a tangential referential relation from original to re-composed, so that you feel in a new place, an OTHER place.

And too there is a kind of performative relation to original sound transformations. Landscapes are seemingly organically congealing though each element has been aesthetically transformed with the kind of inventiveness that may remind us of the old musique concrete works of Pierre Schaefer and the others of the Euro-French School in the '50s and early '60s. On the other hand the composer draws us in to the idea of a alternate lineage down from Xenakis, Mimaroglu, Gaburo. What matters is that what he views as a rootedness I too hear in this album. And if I listen again, sure I hear those influences in essence too.

But on another level the music comes out of the idea of the encapsulating title, Pocket Music. The idea is that the sound sources can well be thought of as things that can comfortably fit in a pocket, so a rubber band or wrapper that once contained fruit, a set of keys, a pencil, ping-pong balls and more besides. It all locates the music in a casual everyday place, perhaps also at home, a place where from the world of everyday objects one may induce a set of sounds, a subset of the homespun world of sound possibilities--a Mikrokosmos  kind of miniature interrelatedness, along with a making special of the everyday. .Underneath it all is a unique conceptualism that helps distinguish this music as of a particular piece, a common source, the ready-to-hand of the most mundane of objects, yet because so everyday yet so transformed there is a kind of intimate joining of art and life.

And so there are in the grouping together of given miniatures a kind of feeling of difference and sameness for contemplation, with never a dull moment but continual movement in the best ways.

Anyone who loves classic Electronic and Electro-Acoustic Music will feel very much at home with this album. For those so rooted it will remind you perhaps why you were attracted to the new sounds in the first place? It did that to me. Definitely recommended.

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