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tag: classical

The Two Minimalisms

As merged by Loscil

There are many minimalisms. In electronic music, two key ones are the capital-m Minimalism, a movement/school of classical music whose founders include such composers as Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young, and the lower-case minimalism, an approach employed by musicians like Taylor Deupree, Steve Roden, and others. The capital-m school has, over time, become a genre, and now counts folks like Max Richter in its ranks. The lower-case one is more of an aesthetic, one felt in ambient music, techno, film scores, and various other realms. There’s significant overlap between the two minimalisms, which are both marked by an attention to rudimentary elements and repetition, and Loscil, aka the Vancouver-based Scott Morgan, merges them formally on the forthcoming Monument Builders, due out in early November on the Kranky label. The title track was posted this week as an advance listen, and it’s a satisfying work in which orchestral instrumentation, notably a horn section around the three-minute mark and a choral part earlier on, emerge from an underlying glitchy drone.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/kranky. More from Loscil at loscil.ca.

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Amanda Feery’s Cello + Electronics

A rough draft of her "Stray Sods" — plus a video excerpt

“Stray Sods,” as heard here, is a rough take of a piece for cello and electronics by Amanda Feery, the Dublin-based composer. The first thing you hear in the piece isn’t the cello, at least not in recognizable form, but a pulsing, filmic, beading field of percussion. The effect of these tiny percussive tones is caught somewhere between a tossed snow globe and the sound design of a particularly heightened moment in a contemporary thriller. A cello enters that zone and saws long, held notes. It fills the space between the many pointillist dots. At first the cello is halting, cautious, and then it gains melodic complexity. This isn’t a whisper-to-a-scream composition, however. Pauses come at appropriate increments, and the percussion fades back and forth between modes in a manner that suggests time shifts and tectonic adjustments. There have been times when I’ve let the nearly seven minutes of “Stray Sods” play on repeat for hours, and I recommend doing so.

As a bonus, here’s a video excerpt of “Stray Sods” performed by cellist Amanda Gookin. It’s the latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.”

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/vanessaparody. More on Feery, who is completing a PhD in Compositon at Princeton, at amandafeery.com.

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The Romancing of Minimalism

In the hands of pianist Theo Alexander

It’s not for no reason that the music of Theo Alexander appears in SoundCloud playlists on occasion alongside that of Nils Frahm. Like Frahm, Alexander balances a solo acoustic piano style between neo-classicalism and post-minimalism — that is, between an adherence to a longstanding instrumental literature, and an affection for a more recent one. What makes both musicians’ work trenchant today is how minimalism, once upon a time an avant-garde school, has become, through film and TV scores as well as through the popular rise of its founding composers, a romantic form.

The pulsing of Alexander’s right hand at the opening of “Disappearing Altogether” might have been a comment on mechanization and formal purity had it been composed and performed 30 years ago, but today it is the beating heart of a romantic figure. That Alexander can balance a percussive instinct with, as the piece proceeds, a penchant for melodic flourishing is very much to his credit.

Another thing Alexander shares with Frahm is a penchant for putting the mic very close to the piano. Just listen at 50 seconds in — when the piece takes its sole, momentary pause — to how the silence isn’t pure silence, but instead a careful framing, the waveforms of a handful of notes bending and bleeding and fading together, true to the track’s title.

“Disappearing Altogether” is from a forthcoming album titled Irresolution. Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/theoalexander. More from Theo Alexander, who is based in London, England, at theoalexander.bandcamp.com and theo-alexander.com. I first heard the track when I was, briefly, giving the service submithub.com a try.

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Vinyl Context and Purloined Notes

The classical remixes of Bstep

Classical Rmxs is as it sounds. The new Bstep collection, two dozen tracks total, is a beat-heavy selection of snippets of various classical-music pieces set to downtempo, hip-hop-informed metrics. Bstep is Ben Stepner, who previously took a favorite by proto-minimalist composer Morton Feldman, “Triadic Memories,” and rendered it into something loungey and soulful, and just a little bit funky. Often on Classical Rmxs, as in “Black Dragon,” the music’s vinyl context is as much a part of the end composition as is the music itself — the sway of the surface noise is on repeat, right along with the handful of purloined notes that serve as its core. “Strange Days” pulls from a full orchestra, a pixel bit of static serving as a percussive grace note. Not all the source audio is instrumental. On “Qigong” it appears to be choral sample, rendered spectral in its misty repetition. Nor are all the additions simply beats. On “Qigong” there’s a sudden, occasional, truly funky emphasis in the form of an r&b grunt. It’s quite a pleasure to get lost in the small segments that Stepner focuses on, tiny moments from long-form works turned, themselves, into voluminous chasms where beat machines run free.

Album, all 24 tracks, originally posted at bstep.bandcamp.com. More from Stepner, who is based in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, at benstepner.com, soundcloud.com/benstepner, and twitter.com/bstepbeatz.

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Alvin Curran Finds His (Dad’s) Trombone

And records a tribute to its weathered tone

Alvin Curran, the composer (b. 1938), lost his dad’s trombone, only to have it relocated decades later. In a New York Times essay this past weekend, “The Trombone Comes Home,” Curran tells the story of the instrument’s role in his childhood education and activities, before he switched to piano and, later still, composition. He also tells the story of its reappearance. The discovery provides an emotional end to the tale:

I let it sit for a few days to acclimatize. The with my wife, Susan, snapping pictures I carefully removed the layers of wrappings one at a time with a kitchen knife — and then opened the latches to reveal an unpolished silent brass corpse inside, smelling exactly the same as it did when I surreptitiously opened that case for the first time some 70 years earlier in Providence.

Included alongside the essay is a nearly two-minute composition by Curran, “The Lost Trombone.” It’s described, succinctly, as follows:

A composition built on a single B flat note played on the recovered trombone by the author, electronically processed and produced with Angelo-Maria Farro.

For unclear reasons the essay itself makes no direct connection to the piece, and in no way gets into its existence, let alone its composition and recording process. It’s a riveting miniature of repetition, the threadbare note echoed and layered, its held tone circling round and round, building if not to an orchestral impact, then at least that of a sizable chamber ensemble. You enter into the weathered tone, much as Curran himself was taken by its accrued meaning and experience:

For me, it was the essence of unabashed musical Americana, its mouthpiece an amalgam of chopped liver, Mom’s tuna salad, kosher hot dogs, kasha and planetary garlic breath fused with silver and steel and a century of house mold.

The audio isn’t embeddable, so you’ll need to click through to the nytimes.com site to listen in full. More from Curran at alvincurran.com.

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