Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Five (Easy) Pieces

aka "Five Pieces of New Music You Might Actually Like and Listen To Voluntarily."

Modern music doesn't suck. Contemporary composers are actually trying very hard to connect with an audience that has in large part abandoned the "classical" arena for popular forms. In some cases, all that's required is the same flexibility and open ears you need to appreciate TV on the Radio or Mogwai or whoever. You get my point, maybe. In that spirit, here goes:

Frederick Rzewski--Coming Together/Attica: These two pieces function together as Rzewski's commentary on Attica prison riots and their aftermath. I first heard Coming Together in high school, and it knocked me out of my chair. Rzewski sets an excerpt from a letter by Attica prisoner Sam Melville, who died during the riots. The poetic force comes mainly from Rzewski's "squaring" process, which gradually aggregates the text sentence by sentence, starting from the beginning, culminating with the full text, then "washing away" the words sentence by sentence from the start. The internal, circular connections between the different sentiments, and the ways that different ideas and emotions ground various sections of the piece, make it anything but repetitive. Attica, meanwhile, offers the other side of the coin, with a single sentence from released inmate Richard X Clark. When asked how it felt to put Attica behind him, he simply said "Attica is in front of me." Surprisingly, Rzewski's sets this fairly bleak pronouncement against a surging, cautiously hopeful melodic sequence that sort of devastates with its beauty and ultimate lack of hope. That's not a very lucid description. Here's an excellent early recording of both pieces, with some other stuff as well. Here's the Eighth Blackbird take on Coming Together.

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