ROGER DOYLE: “Cool Steel Army” = Cool Steel Army; Paavo’s Engagement; Adolf Gébler, Clarinettist – Various performers/Roger Doyle, electronics/Ian McDonnell, laptop percussion – Psychonavigation PSY 028, 58:47 [Distr. by Allegro] (8/12/14) **1/2:
Irish composer Roger Doyle is a new name for me although he has been an important name in the Dublin new music scene for a while. His style, judging solely from these three works, seems to be a form of cellular minimalism or a more aggressive “pattern music” like maybe the music of guitarist-composer Glenn Branca. This is especially true in the opening very metallic “wake up call” of Cool Steel Army, heavy on percussion and frantic piano riffs. The energy and effect in Cool Steel Army is nearly relentless. I did not dislike it but it certainly serves as a startling first cut to the album. (Just like other works in this genre; go ahead: turn up your stereo and it will get you going.)
The quite laid-back Paavo’s Engagement presents a very different mood to be sure. This is an extended piano work, the title of which refers simply to what Doyle said was in response to his son’s wedding plans. This work is very pretty and the harmonies change just enough but it is kind of “old school” minimalism. It reminded me just a bit of some Harold Budd and the like. It does somewhat lose impetus, in my opinion, over the course of its seventeen-minute run but is never unpleasant.
Adolf Gébler, Clarinettist is a wholly different matter. This seven movement work (seven scenes, really) for recorded actors, orchestra, female vocals and CD player is what Doyle calls part of his “cinema for the ear” project. The idea was to write what would be a soundtrack to an imaginary movie with a script or theme and appropriate music. In this case, the storyline comes from the recollections in a script by playwright Carlo Gébler on the life of his grandfather, Adolf Gébler, who played principal clarinet in the Radio Éireann Studio Symphony in the 1930s. The music is another example of what I think of as a “para-minimalism” (in this exact case, channeling Philip Glass) and is not unpleasant. Needless to say, there are very prominent parts for clarinet in the fabric of the orchestration. If there is a problem with this piece as a listening experience, I am not at all sure that it holds the attention well or even holds up solidly as a unified work. There are some lovely moments and the performers do well but maybe the story of Adolf Gébler could have been handled as a song cycle or a very small scale “opera”, much like some of the works of Michael Nyman. (It rather sounds like his work in places too.) I just think the canned dialogue hurts, not helps. [But I found it fascinating, and I don’t usually like narration and music together…Ed.]
I get the impression that Roger Doyle is a very creative soul with a truly eclectic view of music and art. In all honesty, this music did not leave a lasting impression with me; although I think there are moments in Adolf Gébler, especially, that I found quite lovely. This is probably not going to appeal to a wide audience and some will assuredly like it more (or less) than I did but I certainly admire the creativity and artistic abandon. I would like to hear more of Doyle’s music to get a more complete picture.