Michael GORDON (b. 1956) The Unchanging Sea (2018)[28:54] Beijing Harmony (2013) [14:40]
Film: The Unchanging Sea (1910 and 2018) [30:00]
Tomoko Mukaiyama (piano)
Seattle Symphony/Pablo Rus Broseta
rec. 2016/17 CANTALOUPE MUSIC CA21141 [CD: 43:34 + DVD: 30:00]
This project, by composer Michael Gordon and film-maker Bill Morrison,
strains in a challengingly pleasing way at the boundaries of classical
manners and mores. It pushes the skiff out further than Nyman, Glass,
Pärt and Zhukov.
Essentially, this set from Cantaloupe serves up a film score twice:
once by itself as an audio experience and once with its accompanying
film. The music does not suffer without the images. The two-disc package
features the Seattle Symphony's recordings of The Unchanging
Sea (and one other score) on an audio CD. The region-free DVD of
Bill Morrison's film is based on silents with Gordon's
identical score. Gordon and Morrison have worked together before (review).
This is the fifth of their collaborations, which began with Decasia
The principal source for The Unchanging Sea is a 1910 short
film by director D.W. Griffith. This is smoothly interleaved and married
up with brief extracts from seventeen obscure or part-lost silents.
All have been rescued from the nitrate vaults of the Library of Congress.
These are preoccupied with sea travel, beach scenes, dreams, ship-wrecks,
and footage shot in Seattle in 1897 when the S.S. Willamette
sailed out of Puget Sound at the height of the gold rush.
Tomoko Mukaiyama's piano tolls and trills away over a slowly
seething, tense, remorseless and even apocalyptic orchestra. The notes
tell us of Gordon’s fascination with the sea "in all its
turbulence, majesty and mystery". The film material is not perfectly
or even serviceably preserved. The pictures are shown in their deteriorated
and image-melted nitrate stock glory. Not only is the image speckled
and surface scarred but sections of images are at times melted completely
or in bands or oily scabs running down the centre or either side of
the frame. There are a few (very few) title boards but they are rarely
in evidence to distract from what is a hypnotic score and moving image.
The effect carries the sense of travelling through time.
The CD also includes the shorter Beijing Harmony. This piece
was prompted by the Echo Wall at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. The
notes tells us that Gordon “imagined that the sound would bounce
off the stone floors and buildings to create a fanfare of echoes - an
acoustical rebounding and ringing that would slowly grow in zeal and
fierceness.” This steady growth follows a similar chugging pattern
as with The Unchanging Sea: a surging and a welling-up.
The recordings have been produced by Dmitriy Lipay and are vivid. Both
the music and images are mesmerising.
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