Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Day 40: Studio One Showcase V.1 and Kronos Quartet "Nuevo"

This is one of those days that people like to use as their evidence that they're into 'anything good.' These are CDs I actively wanted where it's difficult to draw a direct line from one taste to the other. It's fairly easy to go, "First wave ska and contemporary composition? I'm eclectic." Except early on I stated that I don't but into that. Which is not to imply that everyone who owns a Heptones recording has a Kronos Quartet recording laying around as well or even knows who the Kronos Quartet is. But there is a line. I'm so sure of it that I'm going to try and draw one now even though I'm not sure what it is. Sort of a haphazard 'six degrees of my musical tastes.'

I like the Kronos Quartet through things like the Festival of New American music, which I'll get into later. They do challenging pieces with varying degrees of accessibility, and I like them because of their challenges and what the musical director of the group is able to select. This came about as a result of musical study, which was primarily on the saxophone. On the saxophone I was exposed to dissonance and irregular rhythm while listening to jazz. Also through jazz I began to enjoy blended horn harmonies and syncopation. One of the chief elements in ska is blended horns and syncopation. So while it's not a straight line, more of a V, there is a linear logic to me liking both ska music and modern composition.

So having gotten through that, lets get to today's CDs.

Various Artists
Studio One Showcase 1
So really this is more of a reggae compilation than anything, but it was because of ska that I picked it up. Though reggae was fairly popular among the other employees as could be expected, so I'm not sure how I ended up with this one. It may not have been a 'general population' promo but rather something by circumstance I ended up with exclusive access to.

Almost half of this compilation is made up of Heptones songs. The recordings are remarkably clear for their age.

For a lot of people, and I'm not neccisarily excluding myself here, reggae is one album--Legend by Bob Marley. And honestly, that's all most people might need for their reggae fix. There's an old joke about what happened when the reggae fan came down of the weed he was smoking and then was asked about reggae, he responds, "That song sucks." I think that unless you're really into it, a little reggae goes a long way. But this really might be true of any music that you're not primarily interested in.

I'm definitely not in the category of 'reggae connoisseur' by any stretch. (also, I am a horrible speller, I don't want to admit the lengths I had to go to get close enough for spell check to figure out what I was talking about...). The only real reason that I am not one of the people whose understanding of reggae begins and ends with Legend is because I worked at a record store and the kind of people that means you hang out with. I like ska, I like some dancehall and rocksteady, but really would be hard pressed to be able to identify the difference between those I just admit I like all of them in some way.

This Studio One has an actual Motown tinge to it. I don't know who influences who in this case, but there is that hint of popular music of the 60s and 70s over that tell-tale syncopation.

It's hard not to bob your head like you're hypnotized to reggae. If you get past the first song, you're's only a matter of time before your bobbin' with that blonde liberal arts major with dreads who has named his bong. Might as well enjoy it.

Kronos Quartet

You never really know what you're going to get with a Kronos Quartet album. Well, I mean, I was able to expect Mexican themed compositions. But not amplified strings run through a series of effects.

They tend to know how to start an album, every one of the albums of theirs I have (or at least hope I still have), the first piece is usually the one that hooks me the most and is usually the most dynamic.

As I mentioned, I got into the Kronos Quartet through Sacramento State's Festival of New American Music. I was a music student at Sac State for a short time until they figured out that I didn't have the money to attend. I got away with that for a surprisingly long time, really. Sac State had a rather robust modern music program and through that we were exposed to all manner of experimental composition styles and performers. Which for me at the time was hilarious. I really wasn't ready to accept what I was hearing there as music. I even think I kind of dreaded when the festival would come up.

But that all changed partially due to me desperately wanting to make fun of it. Outside of my fellow students, there wasn't anyone who had the background on what was happening to understand my 'clever' comments. So first I had to explain the music to them. And of course, I tried to make that as demeaning and 'funny' as possible. But then two distinct phenomenons happened. First was far too much attention to detail. I would get bogged down on little bits that didn't assist my joke in anyway that I would then have to explain further. The second was, my friends turned out to be some curious cats and would have follow up questions. So my little routine about this ridiculous music turned into me having to explain it. After doing that a few times, suddenly I actually understood what was going on. I think it was after maybe the fifth time I was trumped on insisting that 4'33" was actually the result of someone who forgot his composition was due that it all clicked for me.

This wasn't too long after they had done Purple Haze, which I think was the hook they tried to sell us on.

By the second year I was buying FeNAM t-shirts.

This album is just a sleeve, so I don't have the liner notes to tell me what the theme here is. I had seen an interview (or maybe this was a question and answer during a performance, I can't remember) that indicated that they collect compositions and recordings until there's enough of one theme to release an album and then it comes out.

So far this is pretty accessible. There are the wailing, screeching, crunchy recordings like Black Angels which we would occasionally use to clear the store at closing time. This isn't one of them.

I have to admit that there is the stupid part of my brain that sort of expected string quartet versions of mariachi music, which I guess would be about as accurate as expecting American composers to all sound like Conway Twitty. (Why Conway Twitty? I don't know, first thing that came to mind.) And thus I have to admit I don't know much about Mexican music outside of mariachi. Which is another thing I love about Kronos, they manage to confront me with music that I before hand might have only had a superficial knowledge. Of course, being a group that focuses on modern composition, I get the fun house mirror version of these traditions most of the time.

This is definitely headphone music. Not just because of the usual subtleties of string recording, but because of the odd atmospheric chanting and sound effects that come in and out throughout the album at faint levels. It provides a really cool strange atmospheric effect to the recordings.

This album makes them tied for second in most represented group on my iTunes in terms of number of albums. Overall that honor goes to The Shadow radio dramas.

There's a strange bit of what sounds like theater going on during the Chuavo Suite.

As a side note, iTunes, and indeed most modern cataloging of music, has a messed up time dealing with classical music in general and I believe it stems from the fact that most classical music is not performed by the composer. Popular music cataloging, which is what most of the cataloging is designed for, only allows for classification for artist, song, album, and genre. In doing it that way there is the assumption that the 'artist' refers to performer and composer. This isn't always 100% true (in that not all pop singers write their own material, or for covers), but it is a performer centric filing system. Claassical music as that extra tier, the composer, through which to classify things but there is no slot for that so it becomes difficult since you can be searching for a performer (Kronos Quartet, for example) or composer (perhaps more music by Chilano Sanchez whose carnival-esque Nacho Verdusco on this album is really intriguing), there isn't that extra slot. So the people who end up putting in the track names have non-standard ways of jamming in the composer into the track title. Or ditching the performer in favor of the composer. I had this problem at the store as well in trying to come up with ways to file the classical CDs. After years of refining my method into finely tuned sectioning that allowed people to browse performers, composers, periods, instruments, and styles, the person right after me did away with all of that. I'd complain that I had no legacy, but that store doesn't exist anymore anyway, so it's not like it would have lasted.

12/12 sounds like some weird techno-symphonic nightmare where we all dance to the collapse of society. Perhaps it was what they were going for in that Matrix:Reloaded rave scene I keep hearing about. (That's right, I never saw the second Matrix guys are suckers...). But then that's only one of its transitioning moods. It's actually one of the more interesting pieces on the album, which all have had their various charms so far.

And the whole album ends with a dance mix, which would be a strange thing if it wasn't the Kronos Quartet. But it is, so anything goes.

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