Spinning Music is Ethan Rose’s second “proper” CD. It collects three pieces of music that he originally issued on limited edition CDRs (quantities 18-50, www.ethanrosemusic.com) following the release of his first album Ceiling Songs, but given that they are all sourced from automatic sound makers, they fit together at both the conceptual and sonic levels. The title invites any number of readings. What’s Rose’s spin on things? Perhaps he wants to suggest a certain kind of motion? Or is he indicating a creative process?
Rose’s spin is analogous to a two-tone coif; it’s fine to show your roots, but you still have to style your hair just so. There’s are points during each track where the sources — the Stamford University carillon on “Singing Tower,” player pianos on “…the dot and the line…,” and music boxes and an optical film reader on “Miniature & Sea” — lay bare. But most of his music is derived from processing; echo magnifies a single music box chime, digital treatments blur and stretch carillon notes into long, bright tones. Some sound artists dig for the grit in their chosen oyster, but not Rose. He’s happy to layer more prettiness beneath his pretty surfaces, which ensures that the CD meets the first criterion of ambient music; it sounds nice when you ignore it. When you listen more closely, the results vary. “Miniature & Sea” is a marvelous study in contrasting textures, with just a hint of roughness in the low tones to offset the more facile appeal of his glistening high frequencies. Paper scrapes, loped and elongated low notes, and the transient flicker of digital dust offer a counterpoint to the Harold Budd-like placidity of the “…the dot and the line’s…” meandering piano notes. “Singing Tower” takes a perilously long time to work its way past its initial new-New Age brightness, but hang in there and the sounds eventually degrade into a more complexly textured wash.
Take note - all three pieces evolve in a linear fashion, starting in one place and ending in another, that is antithetical to any notion of circular motion. But there’s definitely an aspect of spinning fiber into fabric at work here. Every selected sound gets transformed, and the music works best when the transformed sounds are put to work, as they are on “Miniature & Sea,” rather than simply bask in their own glow like they do for much of “Singing Tower.”