June 29, 2008

Now Playing: Morton Feldman

Morton Feldman: The Viola In My Life I-IV (ECM)

Cikada Ensemble
Norwegian Radio Orchestra
Marek Konstantynowicz, viola
Christian Eggen, conductor

This series of compositions was written for violist Karen Phillips in 1970-1971 and signaled Morton Feldman’s transition away from indeterminacy and the overt influence of John Cage and towards precise notation and the development of his own singular and recognizably mature style. Indeed, parts of Number I contain the seeds of the monumental, multi-hour works of the 1980s: a two note figure with chiming accompaniment gently oscillates without exactly repeating itself before trailing off into silence. However, these pieces remain somewhat unique in Feldman’s oeuvre for their explicit, almost conventional melodicism. Number IV, an orchestratral "translation" of the chamber pieces that precede it, goes even further afield: there is a moment of swelling, voluptuously expectant tonality wherein Feldman’s seemingly incongruous affection for Sibelius becomes strikingly audible.

During this period, Feldman sought to use such elements as singing melodies and (non)functional harmony in the way his friend, Robert Rauschenberg, utilized photography on his canvases, in order to introduce “perspective” to the “flatness” and “stasis” of his music, but later abandoned this kind of literalism (“in music, it just doesn’t work the same way,” he remarked in 1980) [FN1]. And yet, these melodic and quasi-tonal fragments succeed in unsentimentally evoking a memory of a lost past, a role the viola plays again to great effect in Feldman’s contemporaneous masterpiece, Rothko Chapel (1971). Accordingly, these pieces are some of Feldman’s most immediately accessible and downright likable works and, therefore, an excellent entry point into Feldman’s sometimes forbiddingly austere sound world [FN2]. Highly recommended.



[FN1]: Morton Feldman Says: Selected Interviews and Lectures 1964-1987, ed. by Chris Villars, London: Hyphen Press, 2006, p.91. See also Give My Regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman, ed. By B.H. Friedman, Cambridge: Exact Change, 2000, pp.90-91.

[FN2]: Of course, Feldman himself would disapprove of such an approach. In a 1972 interview, he characteristically stated: “I could have had big performances of The Viola In My Life in Berlin. But I didn’t. The trouble is that they’ll like it. They must earn the right to like it by getting to know my earlier works first. I want them to forget their background and their education.” (Morton Feldman Says, p.44.) Nevertheless, such elitism is not necessarily very helpful to the novice listener.

June 22, 2008

Keeping Up With Robert Pollard (June 2008 edition)

Robert Pollard Is Off To Business (GBV, Inc. CD/LP)

Robert Pollard Is Off to Business is a straight-up pop LP that should make all fans of the prolific, beer-soaked genius rejoice. Producer/multi-instrumentalist Todd Tobias concocts a gorgeously convincing classic-rock soundbed upon which Pollard delivers an especially committed vocal performance, making this immediately enjoyable right from the shrinkwrap. Anthemic singalongs, creamy ballads, punky jumpers, poppy prog rock – this album has it all while Pollard’s oblique songwriting commands repeated listenings. However, at barely 35 minutes, Off To Business would have been further improved with the inclusion of the equally excellent B-sides found on the “Weatherman and Skingoddess” EP. Regardless, I would highly recommend this one, even to the merely curious. LP is limited to 500 copies.


The year-long Happy Jack Rock Records singles series finally came to a close last month with “Miles Under the Skin”/”Frostman (long version)”. “Frostman” first appeared as a mere fragment on 2001’s Isolation Drills (TVT), but is presented here in complete form. An achingly nostalgic ballad as only Pollard can write, this is a poignant end to this ambitious project.


So, what’s next in Bobland? Well, this oddity was just announced this week:

Carbon Whales: South EP/7” (Happy Jack Rock Records). This is a Bob SPONSORED release. The Carbon Whales are an obscure band from the late 70s that actor Paddy Considine turned Bob on to. The 4 songs on this EP are apparently the only things they ever recorded. It was never released. Bob really loved it so we tracked the band down and asked if we could release it. The singer sounds EXACTLY like Bob. Check out the song writing team of Bob Evans and Joustin Clark.

Hmmm. I’m suspicious. Bob Evans? This sounds to me like another pseudonymous release a la Nightwalker. On a hunch, I pre-ordered the 7”. Available exclusively from Rockathon.

More concretely, Bob has formed a new band with Chris Slusarenko and John Moen called Boston Spaceships. They will release a CD/LP, Brown Submarine (GBV, Inc.), on September 9th and then hit the road for a tour. Far out! This will be Bob’s first live performances (except for a handful of one-offs) since 2006. Boston Spaceships will play Nashville on October 18th and I hope to be there. Preview an mp3 of “Go for the Exit” here.