A few weeks ago I was having dinner with a composer friend who introduced me to a lot of music that I didn’t know much or at all. We listened to The Zombies, the lasting memory of which was their superb pitch that makes me hate American Idol and The Voice even more. We listened to Mikel Rouse, whose inner sense of rhythm veers dangerously into half human/half genius-robot territory. We listened to “Marquee Moon” by Television with the epic Tom Verlaine guitar solo. And we listened to a couple of his own works, including a piece for percussion called Chronomosaic.
Here is a good time to mention that I studied music in college and received a Masters Degree in Instrumental Conducting, so the concept of reading a score is not alien to me in any way. But this score, which was given to me to follow along with a recording, was insane. I flipped through the first couple pages and saw that it was all in 9/8 time and didn’t pay too much attention to where the actual notes were within the measures. And then it started…
To say that Chronomosaic is rhythmically complex is an understatement along the lines of “this war will cost us $2 billion, tops,” but it somehow ends up transcending its own difficulty into an incredibly enjoyable 7 minutes. The link below includes the composer’s notes on the piece, so I’ll save the technical details for him, but the notes aren’t necessary. Contemporary music (and even music going back to the ’40’s and ’50’s) can, in my opinion, end up being reliant on its non-musical elements to sustain itself, and it ends up being more interesting to analyze the work structurally than it is to listen to it. This is not to suggest that that cannot be both fun and rewarding, but music is infinitely more interesting when it can withstand the scrutiny of both rigorous analysis and just playing the fucking thing and enjoying it.
The performance by the Eastman Percussion Ensemble is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever heard – the level of concentration that each player had to achieve to make this thing happen is something I can barely imagine. I actually perked my head up from the score upon hearing applause at the end, because I secretly thought I was listening to a synthesized performance of something too difficult to actually perform, like Ferneyhough or something. But no, they play it, and they play the living shit out of it.
You can download or stream the work here for absolutely no charge, and while you’re there, you can listen to a whole heap of other goodness. Here’s an article I wrote about Irritable Hedgehog last August where you can read a bit about the composer of Chronomosaic, Dave McIntire, wearing his other hat as a critically-acclaimed producer and engineer of some pretty sweet minimalist piano repertoire.
Horizons, consider yourselves broadened!