DOUG WIESELMAN: From Water – Doug Wieselman, clarinets – 88 Records (vinyl)

by | Dec 30, 2013 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

DOUG WIESELMAN: From Water [TrackList follows]– Doug Wieselman, clarinets – 88 Records 002, 33  rpm vinyl (1/21/14); (Distr. by Fully Altered Media) ****:

This is one of the most interesting things I have heard in awhile. Doug Wieselman is a New York composer and clarinetist whose work spans several decades and crosses territory from composing for children’s cartoons to playing with indy rock groups to being a part of some of the cutting edge “new music” scene. He has also worked for and with some noteworthy musicians and theater people including Lou Reed, Yoko Ono, Robert Wilson and his long time collaborator, Antony Hegarty; among others.

I am not nearly as familiar with Wieselman as I would like to be but this album, in a rich, clean “LP” record format is fascinating stuff for a few reasons. First, for clarinetists, you can’t imagine what vintage – and rather esoteric – instruments Wiesleman chose to use for this recording (he must have a really cool collection.) There is a “high pitch” Bb Albert system clarinet made in the early 1900’s, as well as a “low pitch” Albert system clarinet made in the 1920’s; not to mention a bass clarinet from the 1920’s and an Albert system Eb clarinet from the World War I era. Current symphony players would not be able to play these instruments for their atypical tuning (a bit removed from A-440!) but also for their lovely, but “vintage” – almost strange – timbre and tone quality. As a clarinetist, though, I recognize that Doug Wieselman must have kept these in good playing condition and his own skills are very good; for these are probably very tricky to play. The album notes acknowledge that the horns are all V. Kohlert Sons instruments from Czechoslavakia, but for the bass clarinet which is a Kohlert from West Germany.

Now, these pieces; the music itself is equally fascinating and well worth hearing. What Wieselman did is take some environmental sounds (such as a train through the Hudson Valley, the sounds of the ocean environment in California and the sounds of a creek and some birds in San Francisco) and transcribe what he heard into music. There are also a couple of tracks that utilize additional acoustic sources, such as the vocal choir used in Tennessee Valley (vocal version) There is also a really interesting re-envisioning of John Lennon’s “Julia”, which Wieselman wrote specifically for the 70th anniversary of the song-writer’s birth.

In Wieselman’s words, from the Fully Altered website,“This is music primarily made from melodies that I have heard from bodies of water – ocean beaches, streams, hot springs as well as wind.  These melodies sound to me like a chorus of exuberant voices.  Each melody is specific to the place. If I return to a beach, even after many years, I hear the same song.  I think this has something to do with what the earth can tell us, if only we can take the time and patience to listen.  This is an attempt to share what I have been hearing, through the filter of my perception, from water.”

Each piece on the record is an evocation of a specific place. For example, Pacific Two, which Wieselman further describes – “I heard this while driving down Highway 101 in Northern California. The song from the coast over the hills from the highway must have been very strong for me to hear. I had to pull over to the side of he road and transcribe what I was hearing.”

All music was recorded by Wieselman “live” using eight microphones and a Digitech PDS 8000 1980’s era looping pedal and a 1960 Fender Vibrolux amp for his clarinets. Doug Wieselman is clearly an expert in these technologies but also has a fondness for “vintage” equipment which I found admirable and intriguing.

The choice of very good quality, well engineered and produced vinyl is a good one in that it allows these truly mesmerizing sounds to be experienced in a rich, warm way that some CD technology cannot fully capture. If you have a turntable and enjoy something wholly unique and very rewarding, I recommend this strongly. My one concern is that many people who would be intensely interested in Doug Wieselman’s work may not get to hear this because they do not possess the equipment. At some point, maybe a CD version of From Water will emerge because I envision appreciation from a wider audience.


Side One:
1. Train
2. Pacific 2
3. Moonhaw
4. Tennessee Valley
5. Kepler-22b
Side Two:
1. Gloria Fleur Madre
2. Salmon
3. Julia
4. Tennessee Valley (choir)
5. Pacific 1

—Daniel Coombs

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