Friday, June 7, 2013

Lou Harrison on UbuWeb

I was surprised to discover that one of my favorite composers, Lou Harrison, is heavily represented on UbuWeb, the Internet archive for avante-garde and hard to obtain material.

A page on the website has links allowing visitors to download MP3 files for five Harrison albums.

A FAQ on the website has the following answer to the question, "What is your policy concerning posting copyright material?" Here is the answer in full:

A. If it's out of print, we feel it's fair game. Or if something is in print, yet absurdly priced or insanely hard to procure, we'll take a chance on it. But if it's in print and available to all, we won't touch it. The last thing we'd want to do is to take the meager amount of money out of the pockets of those releasing generally poorly-selling materials of the avant-garde. UbuWeb functions as a distribution center for hard-to-find, out-of-print and obscure materials, transferred digitally to the web. Our scanning, say, an historical concrete poem in no way detracts from the physical value of that object in the real world; in fact, it probably enhances it. Either way, we don't care: Ebay is full of wonderful physical artifacts, most of them worth a lot of money. 

Should something return to print, we will remove it from our site immediately. Also, should an artist find their material posted on UbuWeb without permission and wants it removed, please let us know. However, most of the time, we find artists are thrilled to find their work cared for and displayed in a sympathetic context. As always, we welcome more work from existing artists on site. 

Let's face it, if we had to get permission from everyone on UbuWeb, there would be no UbuWeb.

The posting of the Harrison albums would appear to push the envelope a little bit on UbuWeb's own stated policy. I looked for Lou Harrison albums at Amazon's MP3 store. Four out of five of the posted albums were available for purchase (the exception being the album of Harrison's piano music.)

On the other hand, Harrison died more than 10 years ago, and as with any serious American composer who isn't named "Philip Glass," "Steve Reich" or "John Adams," I worry about whether Harrison will find and sustain an audience over the long term. (Yes, many people reading this blog will know who Lou Harrison is, but let's face it -- you're a small minority of a small minority.) I wouldn't mind at all if the UbuWeb posting resulted in many more people discovering Lou Harrison's music.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Colin MacDonald's 'Circle of Wind'

The saxophone usually is associated with jazz; even a moderately informed jazz listener can name some of the great saxophonists, such as Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, etc.

Colin MacDonald (the hirsute Canadian saxophone player, not the hirsute Canadian rock musician) makes a good case for the saxophone as a modern classical instrument on his recording Circle of Wind.

Informed by his study of Zen, yoga and the I Ching and by his interest in the gamelan and in minimalist composers, Circle of Wind features MacDonald on sax in a variety of settings, including solo, with a pianist, as part of a saxophone quartet, with a cellist and with a "choir" of 11 saxophones, with all of the pieces penned by MacDonald.

So what did I think? I bought this without telling MacDonald after meeting him in a nonmusical context, figuring that if I didn't like it I would never have to tell him. But I did like it. The term "minimalist" sometimes inspires a feeling of dread, but MacDonald provides enough variety in melody and settings to keep things interesting. I've listened to the album quite a few times.

I bought my copy from Amazon -- I love the way Amazon automatically back up everything I buy on the site's cloud player -- but MacDonald points out that if you buy direct, you can get a CD or you get get FLAC files or high fidelity MP3s with PDF liner notes and artwork.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A recording for Duckworth's piano concerto?

When composer William Duckworth died in September 2012, he left behind a piano concerto, BIG PIANO, a seven movement, 24-minute piano concerto composed for pianist Bruce Brubaker.

Duckworth was one of my favorite composers and I took his death hard. Over the years since discovering him on a recording by the Cleveland Chamber Orchestra, I had tracked down much of his music, often buying a CD that had just one of his works. And lately, I've begun to wonder: Whatever happened to BIG PIANO? Is there going to be a recording?

I Tweeted Brubaker, "Any chance there will be a recording of Duckworth's 'Big Piano'?" He replied, "Yes, definitely."

I haven't pressed for more details -- I'll wait for his announcement -- but it sounds like he is working on some good news.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

eighth blackbird's 'Meanwhile'

I didn't care very much for eighth blackbird's Lonely Motel album; I thought the album of Steven Mackey's music sounded like bad pop music. Other people obviously liked the album better than I did, as it picked up a Grammy.

The latest eighth blackbird album, Meanwhile, is an effort more in keeping with most of their other albums: A collection of compositions by various top modern composers. 

Meanwhile won a Grammy, too, for best chamber performance, and composer Stephen Hartke picked up a Grammy for best classical composition for the title track, "Meanwhile: Incidental music to imaginary puppet plays," and in this case I agree with the Grammy voters: I thought Hartke's piece was clearly the standout on the album. The collection of short pieces sounds like an accompaniment for the puppet plays in science fiction writer Jack Vance's classic novel, Emphyrio. It sounds like nothing I've heard on any other recent album. 

The rest of the album also is strong, with stylistically different pieces from the likes of Missy Mazzoli, Philip Glass, Roshanne Etezady and Philippe Hurel. The only piece I couldn't make sense of after repeatedly listening to the CD was Thomas Ades' "Catch." The booklet says the performance of the piece features "an elaborate choreography for the clarinetist, who in performance dashes across the stage, dances around the piano, keens from afar and, rejected for the last time, sits in his onstage chair for the very first time just as the final notes are played ... " Maybe it is easier to grasp if you can see the performance.