review page

Los Angeles Electric 8 ('08)
Mc Maguire ('09,'11)

on different page :-Strawinski inspirations-:
John Ringer ('03) +
The Butchershop Quartet ('04)

grading : * ok ** g  ***vg ****perf *****no better example than this: must-have heard, classic
with additional ° some tracks better  ; with ' possibly better for some (viewpoints)
private       Los Angeles Electric 8 (US,2008)***°'

This octet claims the electric guitar (and its vacuum-tube stage amplifiers) to be a worthy classical music instrument, -not that there weren’t made any compositions or interpretations for electric guitars before, but the starting point of a classical music viewpoint is now made radically clear-. For this, they searched for a repertoire that includes some useful comparisons, of overtones for instance, because the electric guitar somewhat rings (or resonates) like a bell. It was after having heard a commissioned work by Chicago composer/guitarist Nathaniel Braddock that this band (under production of ethnomusicology graduate student Ben Harbert) found the idea for their band and really went for it. 

The album also starts with a Braddock composition, an electric guitar interpretation of Indonesian gamelan, which seems to works very well on guitar. However, in the composition, after showing the surprise that this works, the piece calms down, while slowing down the creative impulse and energy of challenge, and becomes almost like a more melancholic melody, like a meditation on the split-off intellectually interesting elements, before returning to the whole melody again to conclude. 

For older, classical pieces, like from Shostakovich and Mendelssohn, we must face how musical education focusing on written down compositions, could overestimate the role of melody in compositions, leading to different, more “modern” arrangements (decided in the Classicism sense) that no longer respect the creative sound balance between instruments, so that in a Ravel fashion (who transcribed most older music into Classical orchestra versions, changing the general perspective on classical music with it, to a more poor instead of pure form), only the melodic balance is kept, where the underlying characters of instruments are further neglected. Luckily, the band did not just choose these pieces at random.

The Shostakovich piece, (for the “prelude”), even when not completely perfect for its choice, contains an element that could be used for resonances in the melodies, which hang in such a way that it makes the electric guitars somewhat suitable for it, for interpretation, although I would have preferred that the band would have increased the tensions in rhythmic pulses even more, into a slightly changed composition more adapted to the guitar, or with at least, for instance, more spatial tensions spreading in more opened up silences. Their interpretation works already well, but in its new form it cannot hold the compositional logic equally well together as in its old form, losing the grip on its melody a bit, making different parts were there was only one well hanging together logic before. Never the less, the achievements and discoveries that are revealed at the same time, especially in the second part, “Scherzo” make it up somewhat. But skilled drums wouldn’t have hurt the piece here either.

Randall Kohl’s piece “Balinesa” takes us back to the Balinese gamelan, another suitable transmission into a different form.

Mendelssohn’s “prelude”, is played slightly distorted, a choice which I think is very much suiting, musically. It brings the piece down to its mechanical baroque strength, for the first part, with just a slightly too calm breaking point part, (-this could have used another effect to compensate for the break to appear a bit more logically-), but in general it includes a good idea for it. 

The last, Wayne Siegel’s piece, originally written for many more acoustic guitars, is a real perfect choice. The overtones and undertones of the electric guitar makes these tonal evolutions part of the piece, as if it’s only about an oscillating wave, and not based upon a melodically written down composition.

In any case, the Los Angeles Electric 8 made a very good start in introducing electric guitars into the classical music milieu. They should only work with even longer preparation, experience and ear to the older classical pieces and add to it whatever is needed to make it sound a creation of the moment. They prove already they have the right mentality for it to develop with it. They must however realize that the classical music public will remain sceptical until every detail is perfect and suitable on the spot of the performance, which will remain a big challenge until they can surprise this public and change the ways forever.

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Innova Rec.   Mc Maguire : Trash of Civilizations (CAN,2009)**°

Where minimalism and barely moving soundscapes are used more often, PC composer MC Maquire believes in the opposite, with his near-epileptic maximalism, bringing and at times seemingly using up almost up to 300 different layers of interaction and contrasts. 

For his piece, “The Spawn of Abe”, from an earlier work called “the bride of Palestine” (1995), in combination with the title of this album, “The Trash of Civilizations” this all makes perfect sense. The title refers to the interpretative tradition that Abraham’s sons became two religions (Isaac-Christianity, Ishmael-Islam) out of one source (Hebraism). With apocalyptic rivalry their contrasting elements more or less collapse instead of ever blending together (awaiting for their common Deus Ex Machina solution). Klezmic improvisations on clarinet (Max Christie) and oboe (Mark Rogers) more or less wind in between and make compositional, improvisational connections like a common DNA wire, while bombastic contrasts build up, with samples of singing from the three different religions, and computer voice. There remains a clarity in building up the layers, even from completely different  worlds, and in different rhythms, it is still controlled by the mind of the composer, the composition with classical underground directs, while all the elements tend to be behind or different, the compositional effect remains just that little bit stronger. Where the melodic compositional effects of computer composing could be tiring and limited is this edge of chaos which at the same time seems to overcome the compositional restrictions of melodic computer models, which makes the piece interesting. The piece end in a firework of gunfires before ending in noise and a moment of redemption.

The second piece of nearly 40 minutes, “Narcissus auf Bali” is much harder to attend with a completely attentive listening. The overload mind of the composer gives us hardly time for a different sort of game or breathing process. In this case there’s a different ball game of collapsing cultures, mixing Eastern and Far-eastern elements with Western music styles, almost too much to handle. This time it is the Balinese samples of singing and gamelan which return together with vibraphone (Trevor Tureski) and Marimba (Ryan Scott) improvisations and near-interactions. Again, the totality of interaction is near-chaotic and the maximalism often is too saturating up to a claustrophobic nervousness of an effect, with an overload of impulses that are but partly cooperative, so therefore this becomes narcotically epileptic. Too much is too much. Too much fragmentation is happening within a context that has no time to adapt but to collect, this is on the edge of a damaging collapse of the senses.

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Innova Rec.   Mc Maguire : Nothing Left To Destroy (CAN,2011)***°

I have reviewed another piece by Mc Maguire before introducing his ideas on maximalism. Where I found this previous piece pretty saturating, I didn’t have this feeling at all on the first track, “The Discofication of the Mongols, for violin and CPU”. Never the less the amount of incorporated sound recordings is huge and could have given a saturating, exhausting effect but it never does. It is because the architectural structure is never lost and the violin movements keep on leading even when being side by side by contractions of worlds. The piece is a commission based upon 8 choreographic gestures. There has been made use of an ancient Chinese melody ,which worked as a motive in the material. The violin concert has something of a Bartok violin concerto but there is mentioned Alban Berg in its evolution. Instead of a violin lead with an orchestra, the orchestra has been replaced by a thorough programmed organisation of recordings. The idea is that of the notification of the loss of culture by the quick drawing to cross-cultural simplification and globalisations of ideas. The returning image is that of a Mongol listening to Tupac on his iPod. The quick consummation of the most easy access points of musical ideas could also lead to a digital waste belt of quick impressions. Instead of the orchestra there are elements and different worlds of keyboards, orchestrations, electronic beats, heavy electric guitars, all interfering with its own powers. Strangely enough the saturations and contradictions does not succeed to affect the architectural structure as if nothing can happen to move away from the foundations of concentrations, each sound and idea becomes the colouring of the surface, the largeness of the piece remains a huge space ship being able to carry all these ideas simultaneously while its own motor and emotional strength is stronger, it remains with its structure intact in between all randomness. Strangely enough thanks to this, the composition never tends to fall into chaos, the power remains in the orchestra and violin with inner visions while adapting quickly the notification of other tendencies.

The second piece, “S’Wonderful (but the man I love watches over me), for flute and CPU” is a bit different in effect. The piece was written in memory of his mother. It mixes in samples of the Broadway tradition and there’s an overviewing flute piece. This time it is more clear that the themes are something that is mixed in, as of not belonging there from its own nature. It is overloading with its images. In this case these images do not show their sense, are like disturbing overloads of information. There is also something like a general tune playing but all the other tunes are there as well, existing next to the others, and this while the flute improvises a world in between and only at times somewhat on the same track. Here it is as if several compositions, several tunes, several worlds coexist ; they don’t fit perfectly but we’re getting used to live with all of that, if necessary all at once. This piece is as if we hear all the tunes in the mind of the people on the same bus. They’re all living in the same time schedule, driving home in the same rhythm but all with different tunes and sometimes visualising something different from elsewhere. The mix remains to have some random aspects, some contradictions of layers and the lead is not always coming from the same aspect. Only near the end, worked towards a conclusion all different worlds are enough aware of each other to work into one environment well enough. Not the easiest piece, but I recognise some illustration to the psychology in a modern and crowed society.

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