Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A seasonal Digression: “Experimental” Christmas Music

This is an expanded version of something I posted (on my previous music blog) in 2010.

First: Messiaen's “20 Aspects of the Baby Jesus”; this is indeed “different” from the standard piano playing of Christmas standards (i.e. in hotel lobbies during this season). I’d like to hear this instead, sometime! There also exists a “Little Suite for Christmas” by George Crumb, in the same vein, but darker and using a number of Crumb’s inside-piano techniques (I’ll concede that Christmas music probably shouldn’t be dark). It has a rendition of the “Coventry Carol” in the middle, mostly monophonic and plucked.

Another one is the interlude, “For the Birth of Christ”, from the African Sanctus by David Fanshawe. Predating music with digital samples, this uses Fanshawe’s own recordings of traditional African music but is mostly a large “classical” work for chorus, piano, and rock band. Some of it sounds oddly dated now (like a 1960’s rock opera that never quite got going) but this interlude is worth listening to. Both relaxing and tense, the piano adds an atonal accompaniment to a love song from Sudan. In the original vinyl release, the love song was panned too far to one direction and the piano too far to the other, and they switched sides in the middle (an unnecessary and unnerving special effect); but that was fixed on the CD reissue.

Some “pop” oddities: There’s a full-orchestral Christmas tune by Japanese folk-pop-rocker Reimy (on her self-titled album from 1990; her barely-controlled childlike voice stands out in stark, weird contrast to that grand accompaniment), and Bob Dylan did a Christmas CD.

I checked out the latter from the library, asking the question: What happens when everybody’s favorite non-singer and arguably the last of the beatnik poets decides to take on Christmas carols? Answer: not much. It just sounds like anybody’s cantankerous but loveable great-granddad wheezing Christmas songs in a karaoke bar. Charming in its way, but definitely not classic Dylan. (Maybe he meant it to be ironic; but ironically, the irony is lost.)

Another "pop" suggestion is not really all that "alternative" or experimental in any way, though it may be off of some people's radar. Nicole C. Mullen, Gospel and CCM singer with an amazing voice (in complete contrast to Reimy's and Dylan's quasi-singing) has a CD called "Christmas in Black and White". This puts the political counterpoint back in the Christmas message, and is more relevant in today's "trumped" world than it was when it came out in 2002.

Last, and probably least, there's my own piece "Angelconcert" on my CD "PianoSphere" (my name is listed as S. Eric Scribner, if you want to look it up).

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