Monday, August 23, 2010

Day 8:World Flutes 1 and Psycho: The Essential Alfred Hitchcock

It really feels like I just started this a day or two ago, so it's a little weird to think I'm starting the second week.  In the grand scale of how many CDs have to make their way to the hard drive I've barely scraped the surface.

Creating a relatively small benchmark right off the bat helped with the sense of accomplishment. But now I'm into one of the re-usable shopping bags full of CDs and already there is some dread welling up. I don't really know where these CDs came from (I can't seem to keep myself from peering ahead, though I'm careful not to alter the order), but there isn't a lot I remember in this bag. And of course, today brings my first intact double CD. After a brief internal debate on whether that constituted two CDs or not, I decided it was only one for these purposes.

In one week I've added 98 songs to iTunes and, with the music that was already there, brought the storage up to 9GB...wouldn't even fill a first generation iPod. So very far to go. Lets get at it:

Various Artists
World Flutes 1

Right off the bat, my favorite part about this is that it is World Flutes 1. There was much more flute territory to cover...I mean, they double back on a few of the world flutes on this recording, but stay tuned, man, there's more to come.

Rudimentary search says no. Got it in one.

I'm being mean, but I probably grabbed this one on purpose. I like the flute and, as I've said before, I'm interested in indigenous music. iTunes is less kind to this CD. All artists are listed as "Various Artists" despite actually being fairly prolific performers. Two tracks are provided by Native American flautist R. Carlos Nakai, who is sort of a go-to guy for Native American music. In our World Music section he was one of the few with his own leader card because he was one of the few our customers would know by name. I probably have some more of his music laying in wait in The Albatross somewhere.

Kazu Matsui also has two tracks and was a relatively big seller at the time. His wife Keiko a little more so, but still. (Full disclosure, I got just about every detail about him wrong initially. The bio on his wife's site, however, is awesome.)

So this isn't a collection of nobodies on some museum's collection of flutes, these are some internationally known performers playing some new and some traditional flute tunes.

And yet, it still kind of sounds like an incense infused bookstore. Or maybe that sound of regret that you've followed the guy in the sandals home and this is going to be a long, awkward conversation. Or maybe a friendly sounding narrator is going to tell us the native homespun wisdom we've seemingly lost, over B-roll of grass covered hills and worn out shacks.

Really, none of this is fair. This music existed long before patchouli-scented new-agers, long before self-help books and home published poetry anthologies, and long before pretentious documentaries. And it's not bad... I mean, it does what that tea-sipping dude sitting cross-legged on the bean bag says it does, it's pretty relaxing and ethereal.

Though Steve Gorn's Dreaming Shree (not helping, Steve...) is a little menacing with its low sustained tones underneath his playing. Apparently this is the first recording of this work. It's a derivative of three ragas essentially about the ambiguous boundary between night and day. Well played Gorn, well played.

Really, though, collections like this are as responsible as anything. More than flutes bind this collection. There aren't any uptempo pieces here, anything that would essentially challenge a Western ear with quarter tones or harmonies not familiar in Western music. This is the airiest collection of flutes that could be found. This is meant to be played in used bookstores with coffee shops in them, it's meant to be played by that guy in the sandals, or at the massage shop. It has been collected for that purpose. iTunes lists this as New Age, I was going to correct it but I wanted to listen to it first, and maybe it's more appropriate than not--at least in this context. Context is everything. On their own, most of these artists are traditional performers preserving indigenous music, but here, collected on this CD, they're relaxing people doing yoga or sipping Chai Tea while reading The Secret.

The City of Prague Philharmonic, Paul Bateman Conductor
Psycho: The Essential Alfred Hitchcock

This is my first double CD that actually has both CDs in it, probably because I never actually listened to it. What lies before me now is over two hours of compiled scores from Alfred Hitchcock movies and his famous television show. I don't know that I'm going to find a lot to say about the music that wouldn't already have been said by someone hipper than me.

I have mentioned before that part of my initial intention was to play music for a while then transition into scoring films and whatever else. This CD both demonstrates that purpose and why I'm not now currently composing scores for films and whatever else. I collected every score CD I could come across, and any collection of this nature that would come along I would consider a 'get.'

But while this wasn't in its original wrapper, the CDs certainly have that snap that comes with never having been removed from their case. Because, intentions aside, I could never bring myself to sit down and listen to music that was meant to be played with images casually. So when it came between putting something like this on or something else, soundtracks would tend to lose out unless they were spectacularly bizarre or featured an element I had a leaning towards (like Ornette Coleman on Naked Lunch or Stan Getz on Mickey One.) Ultimately, because I didn't study these like I had intended nor do the other things that would go along with it, I had to face that, whether intentional or not, I had given up on composing film scores. Plus, when I finally studied composition, it turns out I wrote really slow due in part to my lack of aptitude on the piano.

This, I think, marks the third European group themed anthology in two weeks.

I think that some of my problem with studying scores is that you have to actively do it, especially in anthology form. In some way you can sit and listen and decide, "Okay, what does this evoke?" but then you have to at least check to see if it evoked the right thing or not. But ultimately, it's meant to sync up with something happening on screen. In my regular iTunes I have The Carl Stalling Project, a collection of recordings from the Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes composer, and it's fascinating. But it can also drive people absolutely mad as they involuntarily crane their necks around looking for the cartoon every time a familiar cue comes up. So I get lost in the admittedly beautiful music, but I lose the relationship with the images they were intended for, so when the figure switches to motion, or menace, or glee, or romance, without the visual cue to inform me about the sudden change of mood, it can get jarring.

On the plus side, the liner notes are fairly detailed and include a synopsis of the films including the film's making and place in the canon as well as a brief (sometimes too brief) paragraph on the compositions selected into each film's mini-suite or selection.

It's tempting to do that whole "They don't make films scores like this anymore," but that's either not true or misleading. First of all, they kind of do--there are clearly a lot of film composers who actually did get these recordings and actually did study them and you can hear it in today's film scores. And the misleading part is, if someone actually made a film score really like these, with the broad, sweeping movement, wild flourishes, etc, it'd be properly laughed at as dated and ridiculous. This belongs to its time and place, when the full credits of the movie ran up front and at the end were just the words "The End." Big orchestral crescendos when a couple kisses have their place, just not in modern film.

Ah, Rope. It provides that two tiered nerd-dom for film geeks. First is the 'one shot' look. If a film nerd isn't quick enough on the draw bringing that up, they are forced to trump whoever did with the details of how Hitchcock pulled off the one shot look. Meanwhile, the girl or guy they were talking to goes to see if s/he can freshen her drink...

So as not to make you act like it's a one CD set, they separated Funeral March of the Marionettes (which makes up the theme to Alfred Hitchcock Presents...) and the themes to Psycho and Vertigo. You can't have a Alfred Hitchcock collection without the theme to the TV show...that show as much stole the identity of that piece as The Lone Ranger stole the identity of The William Tell Overture or 2001:A Space Odyssey stole the identity of Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss. But then, if you don't have the violins from Psycho, do you really have the essential Alfred Hitchcock?

That's an interesting note. Nowhere does it really indicate that 'the essential' Alfred Hitchcock in any way refers to the scores. And as much if not more real estate in the liner notes is dedicated to the movies themselves. In fact the preamble to the individual track notes talks exclusively about the films and the filmmaker. Nothing about how the pieces were selected, the orchestra performing them, Hitchcock's relationship to the music in his film--nothing. Here are the films, and since this isn't a DVD, here's the music that went with them.

Onto disc two...I have to say it's certainly classing up the episodes of Family Guy playing in the background.

There it is, an hour and a half in and five minutes in on the track, the first thing anyone thinks of when they think 'music' and Alfred Hitchcock-the violins from the movie Psycho. But you can't fill a two CD set with just that one figure...

Ha! Fake out! I know that the CD ends with John Williams, so when a march started I was pretty sure that was the end. But nope, it's the march from Topaz.

After being faked out by the ending, the John Williams' score to Family Plot kind of snuck up on me. I feel the need to comment on the CD in some way that directly addresses the recording, like the fact that it's clean, well arranged, well performed and selected music from the catalog of Alfred Hitchcock's films (which is true) and someone who wanted a good selection in one spot would like this (they might), but then I have to remind myself, this isn't necessarily a 'review' website...these CDs came out at least 8 years ago.

Week two is officially underway.

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