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ALEKSANDRA VREBALOV: The Sea Ranch Songs – Kronos Quartet – Cantaloupe CD + DVD

Fitting tribute to this artistically inclined development and to nature itself.

ALEKSANDRA VREBALOV: The Sea Ranch Songs – Kronos Quartet – Cantaloupe CD + DVD (16:9 ratio, color, PCM stereo) CA21122, 49:20  [Distr. by Naxos] (9/30/16) ****:

Sea Ranch, founded in 1965, is a very ecologically and artistically self-aware community built into the rugged seacoast between San Francisco and Oregon. It is, simultaneously, a very unusual and experimental planned use of natural shoreline with unusual, nearly minimalist architecture as well as terraced layout that necessitates care for the environment and a true sense of community as community. While I have never been there I have learned that the community is comprised of nearly two thousand residents; both year-round as well as seasonal and including a pricey Sea Ranch Lodge with stunning ocean and shoreline views. The property also has paid respect and preservation to a small Kashia-Pomo Indian reservation and Fort Ross state park; originally built by Russians in 1812.

Everything about Sea Ranch speaks to the haven for ecology minded artists and lovers of the ‘return to nature’ movement that defined architecture and even education in the early 1960s. (The stunning video by Andrew Lyndon shows us that not all aspects remain truly viable as envisioned; such as the farm component.)

What this is, then, is a musical and video tribute to both the place and the idea that – in 2015 – saw its fiftieth anniversary and, by all accounts this is another cutting-edge release by the Kronos Quartet. Truth be told, I am not that familiar with the music of Aleksandra Vrebalov. Her bio, within the booklet notes, mentions some impressive awards and works that are not familiar to me. This appears to be her first “mainstream” release.

The Sea Ranch Songs is comprised of thirteen sections that reflect on some aspect of the Sea Ranch project and its imagery. Some of the more interesting moments are those that hint at the history of the area; including a truly ethereal use of church bell and chorus recorded in San Francisco that becomes a reflection on nearby Fort Ross. There is a similarly intriguing section that uses notes organized along a Fibonacci Sequence to simulate the architectural flow of Sea Ranch’s ‘Condominium One.’

Vrebalov’s music has a nervous energy in several places, soars in others and flows calmly in others. I think the sections that succeed the most are those without embedded conversations and interviews. The video, by Andrew Lyndon, is, in many ways, the star of this production. While the music by Vrebalov and the video by Lyndon were not created concurrently or in tandem it really feels as though they were. Vrebalov’s music is always interesting but is not as interesting without the video to accompany it. There is a sense of imagery we feel should be there when listening to just the music that becomes more a complete experience when we watch the video. Ultimately, this work does not necessarily make me want to learn more about Aleksandra Vrebalov. It does however make me want to learn more about the history, the intent and the state of Sea Ranch. For this release, I think that was the impetus all along. For the Kronos Quartet this is yet another fascinating and rewarding release whose legacy of contemporary music commissioning and visionary art creation grows every year.

—Daniel Coombs

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