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Philip Krumm - Formations

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Artist: Philip Krumm

Album: Formations

Label: Idea

Review date: Jul. 16, 2006

Philip Krumm deserves an introduction, which is perhaps the key to fully embracing his compositions. Firstly, he was born an Aries in 1941, raised in Texas (FYI, those born under Aries are eminent for being impulsive and adventurous, usually pioneers to some degree). In high school, he began pursuing music studies and found himself composing with La Monte Young, John Cage, and Terry Wiley at MacNay Art Institute. Later, while studying at Saint Mary's University and University of Michigan, Krumm was surrounded by the likes of avant-garde pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen, who he composed with at UC-Davis. Also, it was within these musically devotional years that Krumm paired with “Blue” Gene Tyranny. Together they organized a performance series in Texas, later to be revered as innovative Fluxus happenings.

Fluxus, in case you’re not familiar, is an art movement initiated sometime around John Cage's “Experimental Composition” classes at the New School in the late ’50s. Creators held artistically controversial events with absurdly radical and revolutionary concepts. Often, Fluxus art is called “intermedia” because it transversed different medias at once. Fluxus has expanded with the heralding of the technology age, often infusing, say, the Internet with poetry.

Rarely does a musician strictly use constellations to form a score. Krumm, though, being one of the pioneers in modal (a repetitive blueprint in music), must've found a pattern in the cosmos. Formations is the combination of two separate recordings. The primary recording is of “Blue” Gene Tyranny playing the piano at the Everybody Wins Festival on January 17, 1968, in Ann Arbor. (Tyranny had a stronghold on the avant-garde music scene for decades and is also, perhaps consequently, an editor at All Music Guide.) The secondary recording is a field recording of universal micro-wave background noise from the South Galactic Pole on January 19, 1968. Each note follows the previous according to pitch, the result being far more complex than it sounds. Throw a star map in as this composition's road map and you have one spaced-out mother.

The result sounds like a field trip to the outer rim of a black hole. Formations is at once mesmerizing and nightmarish, like death by Chinese water torture. The crispy drone of the micro-wave recordings doesn’t hurt at first. In fact, it's a rather enjoyable, transitive modal, a musical expression of those unfathomable stars. After 20 minutes, though, the slight twinge of piano floods the eardrums. This unearthly technique and the off-kilter field recording are more recognizable today, or at least more widely accepted, as Krumm and his peers were ahead of their time (people didn’t always consider Krumm and fellow-Fluxus artists to be serious about their compositions).

Krumm produced his last composition almost 10 years ago. Oddly enough, though, this album is a first ever issue of Formations. It's kind of exciting, to hear something with such intricate design, produced during the heat of an artistically moving decade. Makes this young'un feel like she's part of his original audience.

By Kate Hensley

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