Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dusty Springfield. Nothing Has Been Proved (1990).

Sometimes, certainly not often enough, a song is discovered by accident that just completely floors you from the very first hearing. I came across Nothing Has Been Proved by Dusty Springfield on YouTube:

I am a big fan of Dusty however, the song she is most known for in the States, Son of the Preacher Man, has always made me cringe. Otherwise, the album Dusty in Memphis is deservedly considered by critics as one of the greatest albums of all time.

Nothing Has Been Proved is from her 1990 UK release, Reputation, re-released in the US with bonus tracks (and inferior cover art) in 1997 as Reputation and Rarities. Four of the tracks were written and produced by the Pet Shop Boys, and this track, the best on the disc, was used in the film Scandal. The Pet Shop Boys loved Dusty's legacy and they made an effort to create works worthy of her. I can't think of a more fortuitous partnering than Dusty and the team of Lowe and Tennant. This stunning tune highlights the gold-dusted upper register of Dusty's voice. Combined with the sophisticated and understated arrangement, and Neil Tennant's urbane lyrics, you have a recording that seduces with its subtle glamour and luxurious sheen. Dusty's vocal enhances the
atmosphere of privilege and guilt that links the song to the movie, and lends a tint of regret to its unfolding.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Neil Rolnick - 60! RPI, November 17, 2007.

Composer Neil Rolnick was celebrated on his 60th birthday at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, with a retrospective concert of works going back 30 years. His work is known for successfully linking technology to conventional instrumentation. He was born in Dallas, but studied at Harvard, Aspen, San Francisco, and Berkeley, Stanford and IRCAM, eventually landing a teaching post at RPI. His works have been increasingly performed in New York and the world over the last 5 or 6 years. His work is characterized by infectious rhythms, and melodies that are a pleasure to follow. All of the works performed this evening except one had an electronic ingredient.

Requiem Songs - for the Victims of Nationalism (1993), is a set of highly focused songs written while the composer was in Yugoslavia. The songs were influenced by the indigenous Central European musical idiom. The vocal parts, provided by silvery tones of Amy Fradon and Leslie Ritter, explored rustic counterpoint. The lyrics by Rolnick and Ed Sanders, based on folk songs, addressed the political turmoil of that part of Europe. Gently rocking meters like 4+3 contrasted with vigorous playing in the tragedy of ethnic cleansing and its victims. One piece addressed the role of the artist in war - the cellist who plays in the street despite the shells that fall around him.

Hammer and Hair (premiere) - During this piano and violin duo the pianist's hands muted strings emulating the pizzicato of the violinist. The 20 minute work shifted between brusque and percussive interplay with some lovely jazz inflected passages by violinist.

Ever-livin' Rhythm (1977). One percussionist with an arsenal of instruments played along with what would have been a taped part in 1977. The somewhat dated synthesizer sounds were not the composer's fault, the piece is 30 years old, after all. As a "student" work, it was quite impressive. It had a "modernist" tint (in other words, "old fashioned"), but hints at the infectious African rhythms that inspired the piece.

Shadow Quartet (2003). Cast in a more or less traditional form, and despite the influence of the death of his father, this quartet for strings rocked with a bluesy grittiness the players convincingly dug into.

Digits (2005), written for and performed by Kathleen Supove, was truly unreal as she interacted with a computer part generated in real time along with her playing. R. Luke DuBois's video, captured with cameras perched on either end of the keyboard, played with the building and disassembling of grid forms taken from images of Supove's performance. The video, while accomplished, seemed extraneous to Supove's unearthly command of this demanding work.

It was exciting to see every seat in the hall taken for this event. Rolnick's work deserves the attention it now receives. He has developed a style that comfortably integrates conventional instrumentation with electronics, and has fashioned a language that is both contemporary and accessible.