Monday, January 16, 2012

January 16th: Happy Birthday to Gavin Bryars and Brian Ferneyhough

A new feature in this blog: happy birthday to composers and other musicians whose music I’ve enjoyed, or been challenged by, or have personal stories about…

Jan 16 – Brian Ferneyhough and Gavin Bryars

I’ve no particular stories concerning Ferneyhough’s music, except to say that it’s worth a listen. I first encountered it on a “Perspectives of New Music” CD a couple of years ago from the Seattle Pacific University library, in the form of a piano piece called “Lemma-Icon-Epigram”. My first reaction was that it sounded just like Stockhausen (either a plus or a minus depending on one’s stylistic bent). That remains my impression, though the piece shows a progression into deeper resonances in a manner that is quite unlike what the older composer would have done. Perhaps more interesting to non-pianists: on the CD “Flutes without Borders” by Carin Levine, there’s a rendition of Ferneyhough’s Carceri d’Invenzione IIc (flor flute and tape) that shows that complex, dense serialism is definitely not dead. The tape part consists of a multitudinous barage of flutes of all shapes and sizes and sounds, and the result is scintilating clusters of jewel-like notes. (By the way, one used to say “for flute and tape”, but the “tape” parts are now usually digital, so what does one call it? A friend of mine, another musician, opts for “canned” sounds…)

On the other end from Ferneyhough’s concentrated mathematical music, Bryars’ pieces are extended, slow, ambient, and atmospheric. This would make sense, since apparently he studied with John Cage and Morton Feldman (or, of course, someone who studied with these two might rebel against their influence and do something entirely opposite!). Anyway, I first encountered “The Sinking of the Titanic” in the 1980’s on a now-defunct pirate radio station that was wont to play experimental music – this same piece has turned up remixed by Aphex Twin on the “24 Mixes for Cash” double CD. Looking up Bryars for this blog entry, I discovered another piece that I’d heard before but never knew was by him – the poignant “Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet”. I recommend reading the story behind it too…

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