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Annea Lockwood - In Our Name

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Artist: Annea Lockwood

Album: In Our Name

Label: New World

Review date: Jun. 19, 2012

Why Annea Lockwood is not in the avant-garde’s vanguard is a vexation in and of itself. In their household at least, her name should be in lights. Born in New Zealand, Lockwood earned her bona fides on the continent, including the all-important stint at Darmstadt (under Gottfried Michael Koenig, no less). And like the best in the ‘60s, she, too, flew for Fluxus. In fact, her Piano Transplants — anti-compositions for burning, drowning and burying concert grands — remain some of the most subversive pranks of the period. Now, of course, she’s got an emeritus chair at Vassar. And while Lockwood’s gotten the occasional Holland-Kozinn-Holland shout-out from the OGL, both composer and catalog have long-suffered a proper retrospective. (For a good start, check out Julian Cowley’s primer in this month’s The Wire.)

With everyone going green nowadays, I thought for sure Lockwood’s exquisite river sound maps (of the Hudson, Danube, and à la Ives, the Housatonic at Stockbridge) would fall on sympathetic, ecological ears. Thus far anyways, they really haven’t. I’ll wag short of any outright misogyny, if only because recent reissues of Pauline Oliveros, Suzanne Ciani and Daphne Oram have proved that most of us aren’t threatened by women in our studios. No, I suspect the real Söze has been a lack of good, representative recordings. True, Annea Lockwood is a difficult suspect to capture on wax. Like Mauricio Kagel’s theatre, Morton Feldman’s nuance or the whole lot of the Wandelweisers, Lockwood’s pomo musique totale works best live and in-person. Thankfully, this disc from New World gets you as close as possible without actually sitting in the room.

Apropos of Alvin, get your alpha waves — and your Beats by Dre — ready for Jitterbug. Commissioned in 2007 by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, this restless, beguiling work was originally scored for six-channel tape, two live performers and a third just to ride the faders. Here, the piece gets an enlivened read by fellow composers John King (electric guitar, viola), William Winant (tam-tam, timpani, Jew’s harp) and Sonic Arts Union boss David Behrman (on everything from rainstick to psalter to DSP). Working from Lockwood’s graphic score, itself modelled after Gwen Deely’s photographs of the Montana Rocky Mountains, it’s often hard to distinguish between the pure acoustic and the decidedly electro. A hallmark of the Lockwood style, it’s further testament to this particular work’s substantive claim: Man can never truly out-move Mother Nature, no matter how well he dances.

Under duress, though, Lockwood’s never been afraid to get overtly political. To wit, In Our Name is a triptych setting of Bahraini, Yemenite and Jordanian detainees-cum-poets at Guantánamo Bay. Hand-picked from habeas lawyer Marc Falkoff’s translated corpus of 22 lyrics (The Pentagon could only clear so many for publication, you know), the five minutes of movement one are idiomatically bleak. Jumah al-Dossari, a father accused only of looking suspicious in Tora Bora, intended his “Death Poem” as a true suicide note. Luckily, Falkoff, Esq. found him before it was too late. Whereas Lockwood allows baritone Thomas Buckner, the work’s commissioner, to choose his own pitches, rhythms and even dynamics, she does ask him to insert a pillow mic into his mouth. Designed by Matthias Kaul to distort certain words and phrases (e.g. “conscience,” “fair-minded,” “protectors of peace”), well, you can hear where this is going. Underscored by Theodore Mook’s microtuned cello and taped short-wave radios, the girding here is worthy of Phill Niblock and Stockhausen’s finest. After detention of more than half a decade, al-Dossari was released in 2007.

Proposed by Brooklyn’s Issue Project Room, and funded by the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Thirst is a quirky, but endearing curio of synthesis. In Lockwood’s program notes, she states that it “counterpoints tension and serenity, swinging between Grand Central Station at rush hour and Lebanese sculptor Simon Fattal’s memories of her family’s courtyard in Damascus.” My favorite part, however, was simply listening to Fattal recount their visit to a Luigi Nono festival in Salzburg. Talk about a communal vacation! The sculptor’s speech does have a playful musicality all its own, and Lockwood’s peculiar inclusion of the Balkan love song “Jutros Mi Je Ruza Procvetala” could have proven downright disastrous for a less adept composer. At 20:18, Thirst probably runs a bit longer than it should, but at this point in her life, who am I to ask for less Annea Lockwood in the world?

By Logan K. Young

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