Claude Debussy, Préludes, Book 1: X. Profondement Calme (…The Absorbed Cathedral). Performed by Noriko Ogawa.

Claude Debussy, Préludes, Book 1: X. Profondement Calme (…The Absorbed Cathedral).  Performed by Noriko Ogawa.

This is a solo piano piece with a binary, ABA1B1, form.  Its tempo is marked as “profoundly calm”.  Most of it is pianissimo (una corda, even), but there are some louder bits and accents.  It’s basically, in my opinion, a chordal study.  It reminds me a lot of Chopin’s Prelude in C Major (Op. 28, No. 20) and Chorale from the Nocturne (Op. 37, No. 1).

Like the Chopin Chorale that I just mentioned, I would almost consider this a religious work even though it’s not commonly considered so (as far as I know).  I liked this one so much that I went out and bought the score for it and spent a lot of time reading through it.

(This post was originally posted on my leipzig48.com blog “Dancing about Architecture”.)

Claude Debussy, Préludes, Book 1: X. Profondement Calme (…The Absorbed Cathedral). Performed by Noriko Ogawa.

Claude Debussy, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.

Claude Debussy, Prélude à  l’après-midi d’un faune. Performed by Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra.

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This is a piece for orchestra played at a moderate to slow tempo, perhaps adagio.  At the beginning a woodwind (a clarinet or a flute, maybe?) is the featured instrument.  Woodwinds play featured solo parts throughout much of the work.  Also, there are some nice bits near the beginning played by the trombones (or maybe baritones).  Somewhat near the end of the piece, a solo violin plays a lovely part.  But, mostly, it’s just the full orchestra painting lovely swathes of color, with gentle crescendos and decrescendos.

The woodwind part at the beginning of this sounds an awful lot like the clarinet intro to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (was Gershwin influenced by this work?).  Actually, a lot of this, the overall orchestral texture, in particular, reminds me of parts of Rhapsody in Blue.  I guess, judging from its title, that this work is meant to be programmatic (do the solo woodwinds represent the fawn?), but I just like its lush, gorgeous sound. .  This was recorded in 2001, when Michael Tilson Thomas was already musical director of the San Francisco Symphony.  I would like to have heard him conduct it with the SFS.

Buy the album here.

(This posting originally appeared in 2006 in my leipzig48.com blog “Dancing about Architecture”.)

Claude Debussy, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.

“And I Bid You Goodnight”, from The Real Bahamas

“And I Bid You Goodnight”, from The Real Bahamas, Nonesuch H-72013.  Performed by the Pindar Family and Joseph Spence.

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This is an unaccompanied vocal work for two women and one man.  One of the women sings the main melody, while the man sings sometimes as accompaniment to her and sometimes in counterpoint to her.  The second woman, meanwhile, sings longer, slower-moving lines.  Maybe I’m wrong about this, but the song seems to consist of only verses without a chorus or bridge.  Perhaps some of the background singing, especially that of the second woman, is improvised, but not the main melody sung by the first woman.

At first, I didn’t think too much of this song.  Maybe I didn’t like the singing.  But it grows on you, and, after listening to it a few times, you’ll find that it will be running through your head quite often during your day.  The melody (sung by the first woman) is simple, like a folk song (is it a folk song?), but beautiful.  The man’s singing is interesting in the way that in interacts with the main line.  The second woman, meanwhile, seems to be singing in her own strange, but darkly interesting, parallel universe.  She sounds like maybe she’s the Holy Fool of their village (I don’t actually know for a fact that they live in a village, but, never mind)—a woman whose gnomic, cryptic utterances can’t be understood by the villagers most of the time, but which always reveal a dark, mathematical, Gödelian truth, regardless of whether they’re comprehended by others.  And for this reason she’s both feared and revered.  She sounds like she might be one of those blind, Zen masters who always live at the peak of high mountains in the Andes (or wherever those high mountains that blind, Zen masters live on are) that the heroes in movies always have to scale to receive the wisdom necessary to face their nemesis.  Except that I get the feeling that she’d be too smart to bother with going and living on the peak of some high mountain somewhere.

Buy the album here.

This post was originally posted on my leipzig48.com blog Dancing about Architecture.

“And I Bid You Goodnight”, from The Real Bahamas

Tibetan Buddhism: Tantras of Gyütö

Tibetan Buddhism: Tantras of Gyütö, Nonesuch H-72064.

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This is Tibetan monks sort of chanting and sort of singing (at some extremely low pitches much of the time) mostly in unison, but sometimes there will be a solo voice.  The unison parts use an interesting isorhythm.  Due to the low pitches that they sing, their voices have a deep, resonant sound—it’s almost as if you can hear the individual vibrations of their vocal chords (maybe you can).

This sounds like frog music—good frog music, to be exact.  I don’t mean that to be derogatory; I happen to like frog music.  It’s just that I simply can’t listen to this without thinking of the frogs singing in Paul McCartney’s animated film, Rupert and the Frog Song.  Frog music is a strangely neglected (in my opinion, anyway) genre of music.  I know for a fact that kids like frog music, and I know for a fact that adults like it (and I wouldn’t trust any adult who didn’t like frog music with my kids (assuming I had kids)).  It’s fun (although these Tantras are certainly more on the serious side of the frog music spectrum).  Of course, part of the reason why it’s easy for me to abstract these Tantras as ‘simply’ frog music is the fact that I don’t understand the language they’re sung in, so I don’t have a clue as to what they’re actually about.  I don’t mean to be disrespectful to any of the religious ideas expressed by the words (In fact, I consider myself to be a lapsed Zen Buddhist/Taoist).  But I do think it’s fun to listen to.

Buy the album here.

(This post was originally posted on the leipzig48.com blog Dancing about Architecture in 2006.)

Tibetan Buddhism: Tantras of Gyütö

Scene from Heung Boo-Ga, from P’ansori

Scene from Heung Boo-Ga (excerpt), from P’ansori, Nonesuch H-72049.

Heung Boo-Ga

This is a woman singer, backed by a single drummer.  The drumming consists mainly of interjections between the lines being sung.  Also, there is a sound like a foot stomping on a stage, which may or may not be produced by a drum.  Although the drumming is only intermittent, the piece has a steady beat due to the singing.  The vocal part consists of lines that are long, melodic, and intricately melismatic, but still have a steady pulse underlying them.

You have to pay close attention to this piece to really appreciate it; otherwise it can sound like just so much primitive wailing (that was my initial reaction to it).  Also, you sort of have to get past the voice, which isn’t pretty by conventional, Western standards.  But, if you do that, and, if you listen closely, you will hear some lovely, complex melodies being sung.  However, they’re not repeated, so it’s easy to miss them or overlook them.  I have no idea whether this piece is semi-improvised or composed.  If the latter, then, since it seems to be through-composed, I can’t imagine how the singer can possibly remember all of it (I have no idea whether it’s written down or not), especially since p’ansori can be quite long.

Buy the album here.

(This was originally published on my leipzig48.com “Dancing about Architecture” blog in 2006.)

Scene from Heung Boo-Ga, from P’ansori

“Ketjak: The Ramayana Monkey Chant”, from Golden Rain

“Ketjak: The Ramayana Monkey Chant” (excerpt), from Golden Rain, Nonesuch H-72028.

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This consists of many men doing a rhythmic, fairly static, chant, while one or two other men sing what sounds like improvised melodies behind them.  The unusual thing about this piece is that what would commonly be thought of as the backing part, the rhythmic chanting, is much louder than what would be commonly thought of as the main part, the improvised singing.

It’s easy to dismiss this piece as just some annoying, repetitive chanting, unless you listen closely and hear the sort of improvised wailing that is going on by one or two (or, maybe, three) men in the background.  This wailing, or singing, is pretty impossible to describe except to say that it sounds maybe what demented cousins of Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and Solomon Burke wailing away in the psych ward after drinking a little too much (but not way too much) cheap, red wine (smuggled in by a sympathetic trusty) might sound like.  And I mean that as a compliment.  It’s cool.

Buy the record here.

(This was originally published on my leipzig48.com “Dancing about Architecture” blog in 2006.)

“Ketjak: The Ramayana Monkey Chant”, from Golden Rain

“Sekati”, from Music for the Balinese Shadow Play

“Sekati”, from Music for the Balinese Shadow Play, Nonesuch H-72307.

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This is a piece for what sounds like two (or maybe three) pitched mallet instruments that sound like Western xylophones.  It consists of two or three lines that sound independent (or almost independent), but, yet, interact in interesting ways.  That is, it sounds almost polyphonic.  One of the lines is more melodic, while the other one or two are simpler and play more of a backing role.  The tempo is allegro and the lines are continually moving (particularly the foreground line).  There is enough repetition in the lines so that the listener feels comfortable, and not lost, but enough evolution and variation in the lines that the piece holds your interest.

I really like this piece a lot.  With its polyphony, it sounds baroque.  I think Bach would have liked it.  Actually, I’m pretty sure he would have liked it.  Actually, this reminds me quite a bit of cellular automata (and music generated from cellular automata) in the way complexity arises from simple parts.

Buy the album here.

(This was originally published on my leipzig48.com “Dancing about Architecture” blog in 2006.)

“Sekati”, from Music for the Balinese Shadow Play