by John Stoehr
Notes taken at the last Music in Time concert, featuring the music of Philip Bimstein.
• Arrived late so heard just the last half of the concert. First piece I hear is Cats in the Kitchen, a soundtrack, as it were, of found sounds set to live instrumentation, oboe and flute. Interesting sounds that I can recognize: toaster popping, egg shells being cracked, clinking glass, juice being poured, knives on a cutting board, and so on. Some of these are turned into a beat pattern with bass line. I find myself paying attention to the recording more than the instruments. They don't seem to have much of a relationship with the recording, which seems intent of being cute. Later: Cats sounds. Purring and meowing. How can the instruments compete with novelty like this? Maybe it's better after repeated listening. But then again, it wouldn't novel anymore either. I like the fluttering flute meshed with the purring cats. Nice complement of sounds there, but otherwise Cats in the Kitchen feels incongruous.
• Half Moon at Checkerboard Mesa is also a found-sound pastiche with live instrumentation. This time it's a solo violin. John Kennedy, the director of Music in Time, later says this is Bimstein's shtick. OK. But this one sounds more serious, more reverent. Uses crickets, frogs, and coyotes. The violin, played by Festival Orchestra member Byron Hitchcock, feels integrated into the natural soundscape but also set apart with its soaring and lovely melodic lines. Maybe a vibrating string feels more natural, more fluid, like the water into which these little frogs are croaking their hearts out. It's certainly like a human-like voice moaning to the moon.
• The longest work is Garland Hersey's Cows. Kennedy tells us Bimstein used to live next to a dairy farm. Loved the sounds made by cows and asked their owner, Garland Hersey, if he could record them. Then he liked Hersey's voice so much, Bimstein recorded his explanation of the difference types of cows and why they make the sounds cows make. Kinda cheezy. Sections are titled with puns. "Moovement" and "Pastural," for instance. OK. But this is surprisingly entertaining. In fact, the sound of harmonized mooing is pretty awesome. Especially when they are stacked up the way Bimstein does it. The instrumentation is violin, cello, electric piano, bass clarinet, and percussion. It's odd. I would never have thought mooing would be so complementary to those instruments. Kennedy said this piece had a brief period in the 1990s as a cult favorite on college radio. I believe it. But there's legs to this. More than just a fad. The whole idea of building a "soundtrack" really works here. So glad I heard this.