Pasa Tem­pos

Mu­sic by Wil­liam Basin­ski, Ge­orge Frid­eric Han­del, and John Christo­pher Smith

Pasatiempo - - CONTENT -


The Del­uge (2062/Tem­po­rary Res­i­dence Lim­ited) In the 20-minute­long ti­tle track of com­poser Wil­liam Basin­ski’s new record­ing, a bright, cheery pi­ano riff comes to rest on a solemn note. The se­quence re­peats, is dis­torted, and grad­u­ally de­cays, tak­ing the lis­tener into an ever-shift­ing sonic labyrinth. By elec­tron­i­cally ma­nip­u­lat­ing loops of reel-to-reel tape, Basin­ski lay­ers the pi­ano over it­self, cre­at­ing over­lap­ping tones that sync up for mo­men­tary crescen­dos and then dis­solve. Af­ter a while, the pi­ano se­quence is scarcely rec­og­niz­able, trans­formed into a dis­ori­ent­ing swirl of drones and re­ver­ber­a­tions. The com­po­si­tion fades slowly, like an au­tumn sunset, leav­ing an im­pres­sion of length­en­ing shad­ows and a melan­choly, re­flec­tive tone. A sim­i­lar feel­ing per­vades the pair of shorter pieces that round out this re­lease, with the con­clud­ing “Cas­cade” re­vis­it­ing the taped pi­ano of the first track. Guided ex­plo­rations of looped sound­scapes are the com­poser’s spe­cialty; over the past few decades he has as­sem­bled an ex­ten­sive cat­a­log of hyp­notic works cre­ated with sim­i­lar tech­niques. Basin­ski’s The Dis­in­te­gra­tion Loops is his sig­na­ture achieve­ment. The 2002 opus, spread over four discs, doc­u­ments the de­cay of ana­log record­ings of his own mu­sic. As he dig­i­tally archived a batch of old tapes, iron ox­ide par­ti­cles de­tached from the tapes’ plas­tic back­ing, leav­ing silent stretches where there had been sound only mo­ments be­fore. The cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect is like star­ing at a paint­ing that slowly crum­bles away, leav­ing only specks in­side the frame. — Jeff Acker


Smith & Han­del (Cha­conne) Devo­tees of Ge­orge Frid­eric Han­del may perk up their ears at the men­tion of John Christo­pher Smith — or rather, the John Christo­pher Smiths. There were two, fa­ther and son. The fa­ther was Han­del’s col­lege friend in Ger­many, and he fol­lowed his fa­mous col­league in em­i­grat­ing to Eng­land. There he served as Han­del’s sec­re­tary and mu­sic as­sis­tant, a role he trans­ferred to his son be­gin­ning in the 1730s. While work­ing as Han­del’s amanuensis, Smith Jr. (1712-1795) was a busy com­poser in his own right, scor­ing par­tic­u­lar suc­cess with his mu­sic for The Fairies, a con­coc­tion based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream that David Gar­rick mounted at the Drury Lane theater. His scores sit mostly silent to­day, but Ju­lian Perkins does honor to his for­got­ten mem­ory through this record­ing of young Smith’s Six Suites of Lessons for the Harpsichord, Op. 3, pub­lished in Lon­don in 1755. Much of the mu­sic is in trickle-down Han­delian style, though not as com­pelling as the harpsichord tran­scrip­tion of the over­ture to Han­del’s opera

Ric­cardo Primo, which opens the recital. But a num­ber of the move­ments re­veal a sur­prise: Smith was ob­vi­ously pas­sion­ate about Domenico Scar­latti. We tend to think of Scar­latti as a stand-alone ge­nius with­out fol­low­ers, but time and again Smith’s quirky, vir­tu­osic ideas be­lie his in­debt­ed­ness to the Ital­ian master. In those ex­panses, Smith truly shines. — James M. Keller

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