Terry Riley

Persian Surgery Dervishes

http://www.mediafire.com/?jglndi3mn4m

Terry Riley embodies the essence of minimalism. His music has always tapped into the primal recesses of my brain and lured me into some pretty deep meditative states. His mastery isn’t a surprise since he learned under the tutleage of the master of Indian classical music, Pandit Pran Nath, who has also blown a few of my synapses over the years. His devotion to the open-ended nature of composition and performance via his series of All-Night Concerts in the 60s and divine patience in developing themes only to allow them to morph into something even more transcendent is awe-inspiring in my grubby book. Plus, I like the idea of how he would invite people to bring sleeping bags and pillows to his All-Night Concerts so he could play tape-delayed saxophone and the harmonium until sunrise.  I can only imagine what it would be like to experience the incessant undulation and shifts in tone as Riley whisked all of his willing passengers into a trance state. Maybe I am just a born sucker for the hypnotic powers of a slowly developing riff or composition, but my weary heart wishes it could be a part of such a near-religious experience. Alright, enough of my pseudo-mystical banter and butchered romanticism toward altered states of mind, let’s get to the nitty gritty of what makes Persian Surgery Dervishes a welcome addition to my life.

I don’t have the second half of the double cd which collects these dual performance of Persian Surgery Dervishes, but the one pasted here includes a 1971 performance in Los Angeles. I prefer this one over the Paris performance since it is somehow more damaged, yet serene. I am drawn to Persian Surgery Dervishes since there is so much accomplished with two distinct elements. You have a slow-motion organ riff that kind of percolates in the background. It really doesn’t deviate much from its bearings. Its job is to throb in the background while Riley goes bananas on an electric organ. This second element is essential to the piece since it is the motor which drives the composition. Well, this motor gets quite revved up at times, but doesn’t really go anywhere. It is static, yet incredibly busy at time. Riley knows the allure of restraint and pacing and slowly builds from a sensual tease to a goddamn psychedelic frenzy. He really beats the shit out the organ when the piece gets hectic. It’s even hard to type this as I listen to it since there are sections which make your brain feel like taffy left on the radiator for the night. There isn’t really any concessions to melody, but to twisting patterns that kind of collide and coalesce into something larger than the previous motif.  For me, it mimics the many thoughts that bounce around in our minds. There is something soothing about examining one’s life closely and traversing the pathways of thought. Somehow, Persian Surgery Dervishes is the perfect companion for those times when you find yourself in the eye of the storm and can lucidly examine the reasons behind the tumult and transition. Again, I am getting a but too heavy for my own good, so let’s just say that it’ll blow your boo-boo loose and make cole slaw out of your cabbage.

Roland Dahinden

Flying White (Mode 2005)

http://www.mediafire.com/?ab7zjyajcem

I get positively tongue-tied when discussing classical music since I lack the context, background knowledge and musical vocabulary to do it any justice. I’ve always been a dilettante and a casual observer of classical music and have usually gravitated towards the repetitive minimalism of Steve Reich and the apocalyptic sounds of Gorecki, Penderecki and Ligeti. That’s kind of where my knowledge ends, so I cannot tell you who or what has influenced Roland Dahinden to compose such crushing compositions, but I can tell you that I am kind of obsessed with Flying White.

Roland Dahinden is a Swiss composer and trombonist who studied under Alvin Lucier and Anthony Braxton. In addition, John Cage and Pauline Oliveros have composed works for him to premiere. I guess Flying White does owe a bit to the drones and minimalism of Oliveros and Lucier, but it is also its own peculiar beast. Many of you will find Flying White to be a never ending parade of gently scraped strings and rumbling, but this isn’t for everyone. It is kind of a difficult listen in that each composition seems to bleed into the next resulting in a woozy and eerie atmosphere reminiscent of Artemiev’s soundtrack for Solaris. However, it definitely sets a mood, albeit a very uneasy and paranoid one. Flying White kind of reminds me of rough waters. Short swells of sounds that are immediately interrupted by something more unsettling that point to trouble ahead. There is no climax, only a constant build that is repeatedly interrupted before it can ever approach a climax. It is an exercise in frustration, but a gorgeous one at that.

Henry Cowell-Piano Music

July 29, 2008

Henry Cowell

Piano Music (Smithsonian-Folkways 1994)

Link removed at the request of Smithsonian-Folkways

It is difficult, almost impossible, to redefine an instrument as familiar as the piano, but Henry Cowell did so by reaching into it and using the strings to manipulate his playing. His work with tone clusters and string manipulation inspired Bela Bartok to adopt his methods. In addition, John Cage utilized his methods to develop the prepared piano. His maverick ways led him to commission Leon theremin to create an instrument called the Rhythmicon that was later popularized by Joe Meek. Cowell even spent four years in San Quentin Prison on a “morals” due to his bisexuality and continued to compose and conduct the prison band until his pardon in 1942. After his release, his music became a bit more conservative, but he mentored such musicians as Lou Harrison and Burt Bacharach and served as a consultant to Folkways.

That is just a drop in the bucket in this man’s fantastic and creative career. There is something so powerful about how he strikes the keys. Sometimes he demands your attention with thick clusters of slammed keys, but he is equally magnetic when he plays in a more minimalistic style. It is hard to quantify the emotion spent by the striking of a key, but his playing truly leaves me in awe of how one person can transform a musical instrument into a magical one. There is something elegant, yet brutal and severe about how he approaches the piano. He turns the piano inside out as he uses every inch of his instrument to create a powerful, dynamic music that inspires and moves me like few others can. Since I’ve been rambling about phobias and the spiritual all evening, it is only fitting that I share some of the most heavenly sounds thine ears have heard. It isn’t always pretty, but it does hit upon personal chords that remind me that music can be a transcendent force in our lives.