Music for Rothko

Thanks largely to a single composition by the late Morton Feldman, the name of painter Mark Rothko, if not his painting itself, has long been associated with ambient music. Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, composed in 1971, a year after his friend’s death, is a characteristically attenuated and deeply quiet work. Even without Feldman, though, Rothko was a likely godfather to ambient music, given that his many broad canvases generally focused on two or three thick fields of deep, sensual color. Bob Green, who records with various musicians under the name Grassy Knoll, picked a Rothko image for the cover of the album titled III, though that is arguably his least quiet recording. Now, Bernhard Gunter has taken the title of a Rothko piece as inspiration for a broad canvas of near silence that can best be likened to industrial-environmental music — that is, music whose sense is scene-setting and atmospheric, but whose substance, such as it is, sounds more like the distant hum of machinery than the tweeting of birds or the trickling of water. On Brown, Blue, Brown on Blue (For Mark Rothko) (Trente Oiseaux), Gunter has some interesting thoughts on the nature of slow music (“I have often found that listeners took a shorter piece to last longer than an actually longer one”), and a survey of his writing on his own web site (see below) lends a valuable context for this recording.

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