Little Venice, by Linda Catlin Smith, is a lucid, interior landscape. It is a world mathematically illuminated by the light of memory. This mute effulgence invests Smith's geography with detached melancholy. The music becomes a lens or watercraft passing clusters of ambiguous crystallized minerals on the banks of a stream or small pond. A slow, clockwork pan of lichen through an electron microscope. Gradually shifting chromatic planes angle into oblique, lost narratives. The path of the listener traverses these vignettes and orchestral tableaux as if the composition were static and the listener in motion. This linearity is shared by Reich's New York Counterpoint. Smith's movement is less vehicular than Reich's. Her forward momentum propels the moodiness of these deserted penitentiary cafeterias. Little Venice is tensely lyrical. It is also quickened by a suspense arising from the irresolution of themes. These anxious meditations reside in an ambiguous harmony, itself dislocated by Smith's interrogation of narrative expectation. The autumnal countryside of an east-bloc country in 1956. As if the landscape were itself bureaucratized, rendered barren. Empty recreation room in a newly constructed suburban university. This sound resonates within an aqueous world of crystal fragments, of pools and trickling water.
José Evangelista's Merapi is an acute and spiked composition. Its tempo has the reckless, break-neck stagger of scree-runners, cartwheeling and leaping down mountain slopes. It is the predatory address of a heraldic eagle in fierce, decorative phrases. Struggling marionnettes entangled with their own strings in a forbidding, gray light. Sculptural calliopes. Midnight in Budapest. Atonal music-boxes and player-pianos randomly programmed by tree branches blowing in the exhaust vent of a generating station. Unidentifiable pieces of intricate machinery skittering ahead of a shock-wave. A broken glockenspiel. Plucked bicycle-wheel spokes where each spoke is tuned to a different register. Tiny herbivorous animals dashing in alarm. In the second movement José Evangelista introduces a sort of fatique. Mutant giants on broken stilts. A single island of syncopation rises out of this continuum. Raindrops on metal leaves.
Dark Glasses, a composition by Rodney Sharman, invokes a post-cataclysmic calm. The nervous peace of earthquake survivors following severe aftershocks. Headlights on a rainy street. Night-shift in the isolation ward. Windmills squeaking in a desultory wind. The sound of cars through plate-glass windows. Music of the civic square. Sharman contrives an unsettling and anxious mood with his subtle pacing. The entire composition is pervaded by a sad, wistful silence. Large pieces of ice grate in an irregular swell. Eventually the insistent and vaguely menacing theme converges on a mournful beacon flashing regularily in the drizzle like a neon sign in a ruined city no one will ever see. 'Dark Glasses' becomes an abandoned interplanetary probe. The lighthouse at the edge of a lost sea, its beam sweeping the waves as well as the empty houses beside the tower.
New York Counterpoint is a vehicle travelling through a self-evident, celebratory landscape inhabited by discrete, musical homunculii. It samples a larger, compositional trajectory which is itself an exploration of electromagnetic energy. Choruses of aural signatures phasing in and out of synchronicity. Insect calls, the characteristic repertoires of amphibians and birds blending and dissolving in meta-harmonies. Reich's ever-changing melodic topography constantly invents new themes. These mesh in temporal moire patterns. 'New York Counterpoint' is a curiously pastoral work which is intellectually precise and full of urgent optimism. This music is a choreography of infinite, mathematical entities. All of this is deliberately punctuated by the high-power frequencies of hydro transmission towers, approaching and receding the vehicle on which the listener is a passenger. This is a music which moves at the speed of unrestricted thought, a music which reaches the absolute velocity of consciousness. A home array from home.
She Who Sleeps With A Small Blanket, by Kevin Volans, bears only a superficial resemblance to African percussion. These are personified rhythms which enact their narratives without resolution or explanation. Heraldic, iconic drumming. Ritual percussive ceremonies for some lost tradition, temple drums summoning monks to meditation in a monastery of occult and logical ritual. Drumming as a trapped organism, at once expressive and confined. Volans achieves a precise clarity which operates within the tempo and rhythmic complexity of 'She Who Sleeps With A Small Blanket'. The rocking, waveform, percussive momentum of the work metamorphoses at the end of the composition into a soft, understated marimba. This personification evokes a more communicative mode, both contemplative and questioning.
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Christopher Dewdney is a poet and sought after speaker and reader in both Canada and the United States. He lives in Toronto where he is a culture and media panelist on TVO's (T.V. Ontario) Studio 2. He also teaches creative writing at York University.