Friday, October 9, 2009

Phil Kline Presents His Specially Commissioned Electro-Acoustic Work for Surround-Sound Playback

Phil Kline is one of those adventurous musical souls who is not afraid to trek off into uncharted territory. A composer of post-eclectic dimensions, he has created some later-day masterworks that use available technologies to form sound panoramas of great beauty and complexity. His Unsilent Nights exemplifies this tendency. It was created by transforming bell-like sounds and vocal parts into a vast tapestry played out in an extended physical space. The sounds were recorded and transferred to cassettes. The performances take place in the out of doors on Christmas Eve, with multiple participants equipped each with a boom box containing the music to be heard. A performance involves the playback of the boom box "orchestra" parts as participants walk through a neighborhood, originally NYC's Village, with the resonant sounds going in and out of synch and combining in ever complex patterns. It's quite a piece and I've reviewed the CD of it on my other blog (At You'll need to do a search for "Phil Kline" once you land on the opening page.)

Starkland has just released his latest piece as a two-DVD set. It is the stunning Around the World In A Daze, an ambitious and successful electro-acoustic suite specially commissioned by Starkland for 5:1 surround sound playback (though it can also be played in two-channel stereo). Running at 65 minutes plus, this is substantial Phil Kline in both temporal and spatial terms.

The work is divided into ten movements, each a sound event in a sequence that forms an epic musical journey. Live instrumentalists and vocalists, field recordings, electronic sounds and pre-recorded music are subjected to varying degrees of electronic transformation, often via multi-boom box performance.

The work begins with the manipulated sounds of a street in New York City on a summer evening, turns to music for string quartet and tape choir, then to a madrigal for multiple voices, strings, percussion, bug zapper and prerecorded lecture, and proceeds to a rather ravishing movement for tape orchestra ("Pennies from Heaven") which sounds quite marvelous in surround sound.

From there we jump into a chopped and condensed transformation of the Prelude to Tristan and Isolde using original orchestral performance tapes as the source material, a movement for the violin of Todd Reynolds and its multiple orchestration through electronic means. After several other intriguing vignettes there is the finale, an electronically enhanced field recording from an African watering hole, bringing us full (or rather half) circle, from one place in New York to another very far away and hence "around the world."

The second DVD contains a lengthy and enlightening interview of Mr. Kline, plus an engaging short video-surround work called "Meditation (run as fast as you can)."

Phil Kline has given us a monumentally conceived work that manages to be pioneering as well as fully pleasurable. The contrasting complexities of each sound-event-soundscape as experienced in sequence tells a kind of story in musical sound which has no literal equivalent in words. All good music should probably do that, but in the case of Around the World In A Daze there is an extraordinarily absorbing and even startling world of truly "new sounds." It is not a work you will forget after one hearing. And repeated listens will draw you even more deeply into Phil Kline's world.

There always needs be an interval of time before one can be sure of the ultimate stature of a work. Where we stand right now, this could well be one of the major "classical" works of this decade. And it's fun, too!

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