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Mary Ellen CHILDS (b. 1957)
Wreck (2009) [54:42]
Pat O’Keefe (clarinets); Laura Harada (violin); Michelle Kinney (cello); Jacqueline Ultan (cello); Peter O’Gorman (percussion)
rec. August and December 2011, Wild Sound Studio, Minneapolis, MN.
INNOVA 844 [65:13]

Mary Ellen Childs’ music has appeared on the Innova label before, and you can read a review of her Dream House here. Wreck was written as a full-length dance piece for Carl Flink’s Black Label Movement company. It “explores the depths of physical and psychological endurance … [expressing] the ultimate question of how we face death.” You can see a YouTube trailer for the production here.
This is undoubtedly very fine dance music, and the drums and driving energy at the opening and further on make for something which lends itself perfectly to dynamic movement. The piece is divided into ten movements, and there is ample space for atmospheric sea-scape effects, improvisatory sounding playing, and wide contrasts of texture and sonority.
There can be problems with this kind of applied music collection, and Wreck doesn’t entirely escape mildly irritating elements. The rather earnestly struck cymbals of the Wreck Theme no doubt add to the scenic seascape on stage, but do us few favours here. There are rhythmic movements such as The Lake which have terrific energy, but are musically rather thin and don’t really reward repeated listening, unless you fancy dancing around a bit.
There are some fascinating moments however. The upward glissandi of The Box make for an intriguingly disturbing experience which perhaps harks back to the drowning of Wozzeck. I like the ‘theme’ music in its Duet for Wreck manifestation and the more composed-sounding material is pretty durable and often has considerable dramatic impact. My favourite moments are the infinite soundscapes of the final The Abyss, and in particular the tintinnabulations of Spirit Duet but then, I was always a sucker for bells.
It all depends on what kind of narrative or effect you’re seeking, and such pieces are always a collaboration so no doubt everyone was happy with what they were given. I would personally have gone for a less fragmented set of more extended arcs rather than a collection of vignettes, but maybe that’s just me. Such a vast subject seems to demand a more durable shape: perhaps two ‘acts’ of contrasting atmosphere but related in a shared power which turns the audience into more than mere spectators, exposing our collective mortality as a thing of puny vulnerability. Oh well, today in 2013 it’s an oblivious and media-anaesthetized zap culture not the scary voyage on which mankind was embarking in 1913. This CD is provided in a slim card foldout which carries skimpy but sufficient information. Recording quality is excellent.
Dominy Clements