Earle Brown Contemporary Sound Series, Vol. 1 = John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Mauricio Kagel, Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, Amadeo Roldán, et al. – Wergo (3 CDs)

by | Jan 7, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Earle Brown Contemporary Sound Series, Vol. 1 = John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Mauricio Kagel, Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, Amadeo Roldán, et al. – Wergo (3 CDs), 116 minutes [Dist. by Harmonia mundi] ***½:

When I was an adolescent, I collected postage stamps. From the H.E. Harris Company I purchased “The Big Bag of 1000 Stamps.” It was filled with beautiful and ugly stamps, scads of duplicates, and precious few prize copies. Most were still stuck to their envelopes. After much soaking and sorting, I had my overview of world stamps. Earle Brown’s Contemporary Sound Series, Vol. 1 is similar to that big bag of stamps. Its 13 pieces run the gamut from the astounding to the really awful, with more repetition than I care for; but as the last cut spun, I knew I’d experienced a faithful overview of early sixties avant garde music.

First released as LPs in 1961, these three CDs suffer from stingy lengths (less than two hours), but what they boast is so intense it permits no gray shades of judgement. Volume 1, “Concert Percussion for Orchestra,” is the most satisfying disc. Amadeo Roldán, who died in 1939, supplies two highly rhythmic pieces, each with a Cuban accent and each too short. John Cage and Lou Harrison present drum pieces so wry they may amuse your modern-music-intolerant friends. Henry Cowell, the wild-eyed “ultra modernist” provides a tasty bonbon called “Ostinato Pianissimo.” Bite into it and taste its oriental flavors. There is much variety on this disc, which is the way it should be.

Volume 2, Stockhausen-Kagel, is primo bad boy music. “Zyklus,” the first Stockhausen piece, demonstrates his skill with percussion, which is comprised of sparse and airy jabs at silence. It comes to no conclusions, but I respect its anarchic thrust. I wish “Refrain” would have explored different territory, but it just seems like more of the same, only with piano. The random shouts add a touch of spice. Kagel’s “Transición II” is a bit shocking the way it shamelessly mirrors the Stockhausen pieces. Were the two composers trying to imitate each other? Is “Transición I” any different? Volume 3, “live electronic music improvised” has two cuts, each created by multiple musicians (or technicians). The first, “mev: spacecraft,” sounds like two people kicking metal pots around in the next room. Nothing wrong with that–it’s not particularly loud or clangy–but it lacks intriguing patterns (or even ideas) and inflicts puzzling intervals of silence. The second piece, “amm,” clomps and crashes through a soundscape that’s more grating than clever (unlike Stockhausen’s innovative electronics-only version of “Kontakte”). Buy this set if you are a) an archivist of the modern, or b) don’t mind music with a touch of hell now and then.

TrackList:

Disc: 1     
1. Ritmica No. 6, for percussion ensemble     
2. Ritmica No.5, for 11 percussionists     
3. Canticle No. 1, for 5 percussionists     
4. Dance Movements (4): 1. Waltz     
5. Dance Movements (4): 2. March     
6. Dance Movements (4): 3. Fox Trot     
7. Ostinato Pianissimo, for percussion ensemble of 8 players, HC 505     
8. Cuban Pieces (3): 1. Havannera     
9. Cuban Pieces (3): 2. Rhumba     
10. Cuban Pieces (3): 3. Tiempo de Son     
11. Double Music for percussion quartet     
12. Amores, for prepared piano & 3 percussion: 1. Solo for Prepared Piano     
13. Amores, for prepared piano & 3 percussion: 2. Trio (Nine Tom-Toms, Pod Rattle)     
14. Amores, for prepared piano & 3 percussion: 3. Trio (Seven Wood Blocks, not Chinese)     
15. Amores, for prepared piano & 3 percussion: 4. Solo for Prepared Piano 

  
Disc: 2     
1. Zyklus, for solo percussion     
2. Refrain, for piano, vibes, celesta (or synthesizer) & sound projector     
3. Transición II, for piano, percussion & 2 tape recorders 

   
Disc: 3     
1. SpaceCraft, improvisation for ensemble & electronics     
2. AMM, group improvisation for percussion & electronics    
3. Transición II, for piano, percussion & 2 tape recorders
   
— Peter Bates

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