Stanley Schumacher’s Way Cool
album (see review
), appealed to me for its at times tongue-in-cheek approach to “improvised contemporary art (classical) music.” This is a field which for many listeners is the equivalent of having to listen to pianos being recycled for scrap, but when it comes to any kind of music which is prepared and worked on seriously while projecting a light touch and at times an appealing sense of humour, my antennae become alerted to new possibilities.
The blurb for this release illustrates its contents so well that I can’t help quoting it: “Music will never be the same after Professor Musikmacher gets through with it! In his zeal to further musical understanding, he favours us on this CD with a series of “illustrative lectures” about contemporary music wherein the music itself is both the illustration and the lecture. The lectures were created in The Professor's Experimental Music Lab, using analytical models developed at Berlin’s St. Experimental Music Lab Ursula’s School for Delinquent Girls. One picture, or in this case, one illustration, is worth a thousand words.”
The approach is perhaps summed up by the track What’s In A Name
, which spends a large portion of its duration listing categories of music, some of which I can guarantee you will never have heard. I now want to know all about Folktronica and Turntableism, but what indeed, is in a name? For us semi-initiated musos and composers there is no such thing as ‘classical’ music these days – one of the few categories not mentioned in What’s In A Name
you will notice though Contemporary Classical comes closest. For myself I would tend to categorise music as Good or Bad and, other than a detailed dissertation on the Why when it comes to the Bad, leave it at that. This by the way doesn’t mean ‘what I like’ versus ‘what I don’t like’, though the subjective is always present – you may love
what I don’t like, and I can tell you why some of the things I do
like are Bad. There is also of course a conceptual field of music making which seems neither to fill Good or Bad categorisation, holding its own under a file heading which might be reduced to ‘Interesting’. The Experimental Music Lab
is certainly interesting.
As with his previous album, Stanley Schumacher’s sonic palette nudges closer to free jazz than some though his use of string bass and horns, though the two trombones of the Music Now Ensemble often lend the quality of conversing human voices. I’m eternally grateful that there is no ego-laden drum playing here, and one of the surprises with this recording is the use of the Theremin, that haunting electronic apparatus played without touching the instrument, its sounds perfectly inhabiting the electro-acoustic worlds of these tracks. The booklet notes mention that this is the only
instrument played without being touched, but I would pedantically add the human voice to this category.
This is the kind of music which blurs boundaries. While listening to the quiet subtleties of the central track Noir
on priceless open-back headphones a car horn sounded in the street outside my flat, and I had to spool back to make sure it wasn’t part of the piece. Why? because it didn’t belong there. It might have joined in and indeed been welcomed, but this is after all a closed studio world which permits no ‘concrete’ contributions. While I was tickled by the coincidence it also focussed my mind. There are
indeed associations conjured by some of these pieces which seem to have more to do with life beyond a recording studio, but these are entirely generated by the musicians. Mouth Sounds
at times reminds one of arguments heard behind closed doors, the sentiment of heated words comprehended but their actual content filtered by a barrier and rendered something which can only be interpreted through previous experience. B Movie
is also good fun, with added electronics creating a 1950’s film set for our minds while unnamed figures slip in and out of our mental grasp. Like the teacher in the animated Peanuts
cartoons, a trombone in your left speaker lays down the law in Ear Training
, handing out instruction that the student to our right seems reluctant to follow.
In the letter which accompanied this CD, Schumacher describes Performin’ Artiste
as “a tale about 5 minutes of hope in a life filled with a dismal past and future.” This serves a similar function to High Art?
in MM005, forming a character for whom life is four to five against, but in this case creating more of a colourful intermezzo than posing deeper questions. Machine Language
finishes the programme, and like the best of these tracks, is filled with quiet suggestiveness rather than the explosive Bone Moan
with which the CD proper opens. Where less is happening and silence is permitted to form its own shapes, there is a greater feeling of musicians listening rather than just playing, and the contrast of the Theremin-rich Power Duo
also illustrates this nicely. There’s even the suggestion of a melody in this piece – now who’d have thought it …