Friday, September 30, 2016

Composers of Quiet

Honestly, I wouldn't enjoy tweaking Alex Ross nearly so much if he weren't so damnably earnest about his rigorously progressive ideology. But there it is. So let's start off this post on his latest New Yorker article, "The Composers of Quiet" with a little hommage.

Was that enough space? Perhaps we need more...

These composers, you see, begin, metaphysically, with John Cage's 4'33. Which is about silence. Oh, heck, let's have some more.

Are you having fun yet? Just let me know. I could go on like this all day.


So the basic fact about silence is that it is the absence of something. Music, in this case. If you live in a musically-rich environment, say, the apartment of Alex Ross, simply stuffed to the ceiling with free review copies of every CD released in the last decade, then some silence, or at least music with a lot of silence in it, might be the perfect palate-cleanser before your next excursion out to a Big Apple concert. So the Composers of Quiet, or as he and they delightfully refer to themselves, the Wandelweiser, are like a musical sorbet, light and refreshing if a bit low-cal. Let's let Alex tell us about it:
...the magic of the ending, in which the percussionist stands over a set of cymbals placed on the floor and pours grains of rice and millet on them. Stuart began with fistfuls of grains, creating a sound like a rainstorm or a chorus of crickets; later, following instructions in the score, he reduced the stream to a trickle, eliciting intermittent plinks. (Pisaro cherishes these rice noises, and also features them in a pair of pieces entitled “ricefall”; the International Contemporary Ensemble will perform the second at the Abrons Arts Center, on Grand Street, on September 16th.) Bush, meanwhile, played lone tones separated by huge intervals, ending on the lowest A on the piano. I imagined a bell ringing in a ruined cathedral and raindrops falling into a pool. This is the Wandelweiser illusion: from almost nothing, vast forms arise.
Or as I like to think of it: from almost nothing, even less arises.

There are quite a few pieces by Jürg Frey, one of the Wandelweiser, on YouTube. Let's have a listen. This is "Fragile Balance":


Marc Puckett said...

Am trying again today to listen to Fragile Balance; couldn't continue beyond the first couple of minutes yesterday because I was distracted by the birds outside, and then their singing, and after that I wanted my supper. Have to turn off Benjamin Grosvenor's Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin first, though.

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh, heh, heh. Darn birds!

Put on Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated instead. Sure, the politics are pretty iffy, but it is one heck of a piece.

Jives said...

I ask myself, what is the skill involved? Primarily patience, it would seem. I find this sort of music, like 'Fragile Balance' to be utilitarian in my life, as my day-job is in accounting, and I enjoy grooving along to wallpaper music of various kinds, usually in the electronic/ambient variety. This piece unfolds very slowly in a pleasant, rather innocuous way. Since it places itself in the classical tradition, it's hard to gauge the quality of it, it is so diffuse, so for me it falls into a somewhat different category than "classical" it's more of an environment than a piece.

Bryan Townsend said...

I just knew it had to have some sort of function! Thanks, Jives, for a more kindly take than mine own.