LAWRENCE BALL: ‘Method Music’ – Lawrence Ball, electronics – Navona Records (2 CDs)

by | Jan 10, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

LAWRENCE BALL: ‘Method Music’ = Imaginary Sitters; Imaginary Galaxies – Lawrence Ball, electronics – Navona Records NV5860 (Distr. by Naxos), 115:48 (2 CDs) ***:
The first thing that struck me about this new two disc work by Lawrence Ball (with whom I was not familiar) was the attention getting “co-produced by Pete Townshend” (with whom I was familiar). I confess at the front end, though, that – outside of Tommy – I never was totally dialed into The Who and, therefore, I would not know what else Pete Townshend had been up to or his connections to composer and sound engineer Lawrence Ball.
The information provided by the really nice packaging from Navona, as well as the information accessed from the interactive first CD, reveals that Ball is clearly a very bright guy with extensive training and research into nutrition and health, mathematics and algorithms and creating music through the use of algorithm. Ball developed what he considers harmonic mathematics after a concept called “differential dynamics”. He uses an application of harmonic math (the relationships of harmonics within just intonation, as I infer…) to timbral synthesis (drones that change their harmonic colors in smooth transitions). The use of HM to create melodic looping music lies at the core of Ball’s work in Method Music and much else.
Factor in his connection to Peter Townshend and why this collection is called Method Music. The composer’s notes and Navona’s press release state that much of the basis of this work in particular comes from Townshend’s Lifehouse project (titled after another very conceptual rock opera from The Who, from 1971).The premise/plot within Lifehouse involved a future wherein the population was forced to remain indoors by heavy pollution and connected in their homes to an Internet-like “Grid” through which media moguls provided programmed entertainment. Rebels escaped this situation and gathered together to perform a live musical concert which created a sense of universal unity.
In order to engage his audience in a very personalized way, Townshend had adapted synthesizers capable of generating and combining personal music themes written from computerized biographical data. Lawrence Ball was a user himself and began to explore the technical as well as artistic possibilities of composing music in a way that fused theory, technology and personality (the human element).
Basically, The Lifehouse Method is (therefore) a software that creates a musical portrait. The applicants registered at the LM website receive a password which allows them to create a composition. The website musical team expected to choose some of these portraits for further development into larger compositions or songs that will be presented in a concert or concert series. The Lifehouse Method website was actually discontinued in July 2008, having generated over 10,000 pieces of unique, customized music. (I personally still understand only the essence of all this).
The history, concept, math and science behind the creation of Method Music is fascinating stuff but, like all music, it succeeds or fails; thrives or dies on its appeal to would be listeners and purchasers. I think that fans of electronic music – electronic rock specifically – will not be displeased by this. Ball’s music lives in a strange but not unattractive realm that is neither stereotypical “academic” electronic such as early Subotnick nor such deliberately “pop” electronic such as Jean-Michel Jarre; for example. Personally it reminded me just a little of some of the old Larry Fast SYNERGY project stuff (which I hoped Mr. Ball takes as a compliment!)
The two discs represent two different approaches to Ball’s use of the Lifehouse system. “Imaginary Sitters” depicts the “portraits” left by two named and fifteen unidentified contributors and their snippets which were expanded upon, reimagined and realized by Ball (and some website assistance from programmer Dave Snowdon). “Imaginary Galaxies” is a set of three more expansive works written in homage of three figures who mean something to the composer. The one I knew a lot about going in is Gyorgy Ligeti (the subject of “Galaxy 03”).
In whole, I rather enjoyed this music. It is not my usual fare and to really get into reading and trying to understand its creation is an adventure but the music itself stands alone as a pleasant enough experience that makes for a good background score to undetermined visuals of some sort. This appeals to a niche market to be sure but I admire the craft and Lawrence Ball clearly knows a lot of stuff about a lot of different stuff.
—Daniel Coombs