STEVEN MACKEY: ‘Lonely Motel’ – Steven Mackey, guitar/Rinde Eckert, vocals/ eighth blackbird – Cedille

by | Nov 5, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

STEVEN MACKEY: ‘Lonely Motel: Music from Slide’ – Steven Mackey, guitar/Rinde Eckert, vocals/ eighth blackbird – Cedille Records CDR 90000 128, 56:58 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
Steve Mackey’s music has developed into a very theatrical art form; a blend of storytelling that is not quite operatic with a drive and feel that is not quite rock and I find the more I listen to it, the more I like it. Such is the case with Slide, a multidisciplinary work by Mackey with singer/librettist and frequent collaborator Rinde Eckert. Slide was written for the 2009 Ojai (California) Festival – highly recommended for any fans of new music and great performers – and is based on the work of an actual psychological experiment conducted by a scientist who, in this piece, is named simply Renard.
Essentially, the songs by Eckert reflect the researcher’s reactions to his test subjects’ perceptions of slides of photos as they are seen first badly out of focus and then, sharpened to acuity. The idea in the case study was to explore how social enculturation can impact perception (etc.). This source for a theater piece is fascinating but the best way to approach this music is to just listen.
The music is very compelling, indeed. Captivating from the opening very ghostly rambling between the singer/speaker (very well done by Eckert) and the guitar joined by the ensemble, the piece takes on an almost stream of consciousness as we listen to Renard reflect and ramble to the point of obsession. Eckert brings a wonderful tone to his character who at times sounds erudite and preachy and at other times just about out of touch with reality.
Of course, the whole effect in this kind of work rests with the music itself. Mackey’s pot-pourri of sounds is a true mélange of styles that, in the composer’s own words, are reminiscent of Dowland, Stravinsky and the Beatles (among others).  I liken this work to Mackey’s Dream House which, initially, I did not quite get but which I have to come understand and appreciate more and more and that I now suggest makes a great companion listening experience to Lonely Motel, which is also the name of the last song in this set.
One cannot help but be very impressed by the performance of the amazing contemporary music ensemble, eighth blackbird, as well. The Chicago-based and Grammy Award-winning sextet is known for performing a wide variety of new music and with a clarity of technique and tone that has become their trademark. They really are a fantastic ensemble and Mackey’s score gives them more than background to the singer to do. Slide is full of wonderful moments for all the performers including the composer, himself a talented guitarist. Each of the songs is almost a very fine set piece unto itself with a distinctive, occasionally nightmarish, quality to it. (“Fog” is, for example, very angular and somewhat disturbing in a fascinating way)
As mentioned, the more of Steve Mackey’s music I hear, the more I appreciate it. For those who have never heard his work before, I think that Lonely Hotel is a very rewarding place to start. Check in and stay awhile.
—Daniel Coombs

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