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V/A - The Complete 10-Inch Series From Cold Blue

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Artist: V/A

Album: The Complete 10-Inch Series From Cold Blue

Label: Cold Blue

Review date: Dec. 9, 2003

Among the elements commonly associated with the Cold Blue label is a propensity for inviting, even mysterious sonic beauty; an appeal to the senses that, strangely enough, seems to reach beyond sound.

Collected here on three CDs is the entire series of 10-inch vinyl recordings –seven albums, each showcasing the work of a single composer – originally released by the label in the early ’80s. Taken alone, each composer presents a compelling sound world. Viewed as a single collection, the context deepens, and the resonance of each artist’s work extends into that of the next.

The first disc presents two fresh takes on chamber music. Peter Garland’s Matachin Dances is a syncretic work rooted contextually in the historical/spiritual clash and blend of Spanish and Indigenous cultures in the American Southwest. Garland’s writing for two violins and Native American gourd rattles weaves early European polyphony with the tight rhythms and dance meters of desert-dry percussion. The result is richly melodic, yet somehow unsettling and disorienting; music, perhaps, for desert visions gleaned in a subtly altered state.

Continuing with “classical” instrumentation, Michael Jon Fink’s solo piano and chamber pieces come next. These are achingly beautiful, limpid works that occupy a territory similar to that of Satie, Mompou, or Harold Budd. Yet they reveal a lapidary elegance and melodic sensibility of their own, a range of quiet emotions that shifts slightly with each listening.

The second of the three discs is the most stark and rigorous. Barney Child’s Clay Music is a long piece for an ensemble of clay flutes that hockets, moans, and dances its way through a variety of moods; a playful meditation on the music and rhythm of breath itself.

The two pieces by Read Miller seem influenced by composer Robert Ashley’s ideas about prose and speech as music, and are, upon first encounter, perhaps the most dated and academic-sounding works of the set. But closer listening reveals “Mile Zero Hotel” to be somewhat of a masterpiece: interwoven speaking voices intone a non-linear road narrative culled from old postcards, a spellbinding found-art, short story/operetta that, with almost unbearable humanity, illuminates some of the core geographical and spiritual wanderlust found at the heart of much American expression, from Daniel Boone to Harry Partch to Jack Kerouac.

Disc three presents three composers rooted to some degree in popular American vernacular music. Chas Smith’s stunning works for pedal steel guitar are at once abstract and cinematic, using the idiomatic sound of that instrument to conjure majestic – and sometimes dangersome – vistas and wide open spaces. His long “Scircura” is a shimmering soundscape made up of wood and metal resonances from mutated Dobros; a sort of resophonic sagebrush gamelan.

Rick Cox uses orchestral-sounding prepared electric guitars and whispered, half-heard conversations to deliver humid, yearning, and eerie nocturnes that keen and swell like the post-modern shadows of old Film Noir soundtracks.

Daniel Lentz’s enigmatic works take the minimalist pulse of the Glass-Reich-Riley school and add a shiny, California sun-soaked, candy apple sensuality: there’s a vintage LA pop music/radio jingle lushness to the female voices, a warmth to the instrumental timbres that is decidedly non-academic. It’s a completely original approach, one that no other composer (at least that I know of) has followed up on.

Obviously, there is a lot to listen to here. One could well get lost for days in the spacious music spread across these three discs, and continue to find sounds that invite, fascinate, and mystify.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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