Tuesday, September 27, 2016

And It's Over to You

I'll admit it, I can't think of a single thing to blog about this morning. I'm not ready to finish off my series of posts on Richard Wagner, a prospective post on amplifying classical music didn't seem quite interesting enough, I've probably written too much about up-and-coming pianists and their fashion choices and I don't have any musical analyses cued up and ready to go. Then I ran across this on YouTube:

I'll admit that one reason I looked at it was because it was a concert from Pollack Hall in the School of Music at McGill University in Montreal--I played a lot of concerts in that hall! This is a piece for four percussionists playing four drum kits by Julia Wolfe and it probably came up because I listened to parts of a couple of pieces by her the other day. She has just been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship which comes with a hefty grant and last year she won a Pulitzer Prize in music. So, a big new name. But I have to say that I didn't hear anything that kept me listening. This is Anthracite Fields, for which she won the Pulitzer:

Sorry, you have to follow the link because Blogger refuses to find the clip. It is very odd, because when I type Julia Wolfe Anthracite Fields into the search engine in Blogger, all it will turn up is various documentaries and trailers about the piece. But there it is, right there on YouTube. If it weren't for the fact that search engine results are being very obviously manipulated these days, I would think nothing of it. In any case, as I find documentaries tiresome and, in this case, pretty much a classic case of special pleading (you will like this piece because the composer is a nice person and has lots to say and the performers are enthusiastic and we went to a lot of trouble in the presentation and it uncovers some interesting American history). I am only interested in a documentary if I already find the music interesting. I really don't want to hear any special pleading. In this case, for example, the piece itself sounds remarkably dreary and musically uninteresting. Repetition yes, but without any of the magical energy that Steve Reich instills in his pieces. Anthracite Fields is pretty much unlistenable in my book.

But what do you think of the first piece, the one for four drum sets? Frankly, I'm completely perplexed. I found it hard to listen to straight through, so I skipped and browsed to see if anything interesting was going to happen. I mean, there must be some really good reason to write for four drum sets, right? Plus, Pollack Hall! Me, I really didn't find anything. It is as if you took the fundamental elements of Basic Rudiments for drummers and deconstructed them. Take each element, focus on it for a while, then move on to the next. That's it, really.

Am I right, am I wrong? I throw myself on the mercy of the court. What do my league of readers and commentators think?


Jives said...

Well I gave mvmt 1 of Anthracite Fields a try....Wolfe seems to have a talent for interesting tone color combinations. I like the instrumentation, and her harmonic proclivities are pleasing to me. I sort of enjoy the surface of it.

However, the beginning was maddeningly inert, tritely punctuated with horror-movie scares. Once she gets going, she seems to lean heavily on the language of Glass and Reich, but it seems meanderingly, and at times crudely employed. We plod along from one repeated motive to another, building up grooves and tearing them down, with no seeming overarching structure. Other than the programmatic concept. That might be my harshest complaint, that the concept appears to be a stand-in for a more rigorous pure musical structure. When I find myself not understanding a choice she's made, my mind drifts back to the "concept". It almost "crosses over" (forgive me) into musical theater territory.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, "maddeningly inert", that was the phrase I was looking for. The concept does seem to be trying to do the job that the structure itself should be doing.

As for the first piece, I did go back and listen to it all the way through and I kept thinking, you know, I liked this sort of thing better when Ginger Baker did it, by himself. It's like an acid flashback of a bad 60s drum solo!

Jives said...

I had high hopes for the (idea of) 4 drum kits, but they fell hard. Good Lord she took SEVEN MINUTES to hit something besides a cymbal! Followed by 5 minutes of skittering snares and floor toms. Give me Bonzo's Montreaux anytime over this. And are the 3 drummers on the left playing the same part? Why am I not hearing the variety of timbre available on the drum set? It's all jittery, hyperactive, monotonous nonsense.

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh, heh, heh! Jives, I think you win this thread.