Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|David Bedford, Cornelius Cardew, Helmut Franz|
Bedford: Two Poems / Cardew: The Great Learning
Listen to Samples
Avant-garde Cardew with Bedford's familiar sound
Christopher Culver | 06/20/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This entry in Deutsche Grammaphon's "Echo 20/21" series of modern music reissues features two pieces each by late avant-garde composer Cornelius Cardew and his younger contemporary David Bedford. I had never heard of either of these two men before, but found this disc an enlightening introduction to two interesting composers, though the music within is not really essential.Cornelius Cardew studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen in the 1950's, but his public career really began in London's experimental art scene in the 1960's. Towards the end of that decade, he became convinced that contemporary music was accessible only by an elite group of intellectuals. The unfortunate consequences of this revelation later came to be a fixation with Maoism, the founding of a Marxist-Leninist Party, a curious collection of essays entitled "Stockhausen Serves Imperialism", and perhaps Cardew's own death in a 1980 hit-and-run, which many believe was politically motivated.However, his disillusionment with ivory-tower composition gave Cardew the motivation to get the common man on the street interested in new musical developments. He founded a musical collaborative called the Scratch Orchestra which welcomed people with no musical training and supported improvisation, theatrics, and audience participation. It is this group which performs on this disc two portions from "The Great Learning", Cardew's setting of a work from Confucius which in its entirety is some nine hours long. The first, "Paragraph 2", is a wild work and worth hearing, consisting of constant drumming and shouted lyrics. It sounds something like a beachside gathering of hippie counterculture, something no other contemporary composer has, to my knowledge, done. Unfortunately, DG decided that there would not be enough space for the entire work, and it fades out after just over twenty minutes. The second portion, "Paragraph 7", is quite different from the first's wild savagery, a somewhat lush mumbling of the lyrics with hushed instrumentation. It is much less interesting than the first portion.The second half of the disc is filled by David Bedford, who moved in the same avant-garde circles before ultimately doing various orchestral things based on rock music. He contributes settings of two poems by Kenneth Patchen, an avant-garde poet of some talent who is regrettably nearly forgotten now. These pieces date from 1964-65. "Oh the drenched land wakes" sounds extremely reminiscent of Gyorgy Ligeti's vocal works (sometimes his "Lux Aeterna" or "Requiem" due to an extremely dense polyphony in which individual voices are made unintelligible, and at other times his "Aventures" or "Nonsense Madrigals"). The second setting follows in a similar vein, though is less dense. These two pieces are indeed remarkable, but tends to retread ground already covered for fans of Ligeti. The Chor des Norddeutsche Rundfunks Hamburg gives an excellent performance in a type of polyphony that is not easy, though it is unfortunate that a
spoken word portion comes in a very thick German accent.Though these recordings are quite old, with the performances of Cardew's works dating from circa 1970, the sound quality is generally fine. I did not find DG's liner notes satisfactory, as they tend to whitewash Cardew's political leanings and give little space indeed to Bedford.All in all, this disc is one of the less vital entries in the "Echo 20/21" series. I'd recommend it for people curious about Cardew's unusual life and work."
Christopher Forbes | Brooklyn,, NY | 01/31/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The concept of Cardew's work, The Great Learning has fascinated me since I first saw the score in Source magazine back in the early 70s. The textually based piece was elegant, but left my 12 year old mind with no way to imagine what the actual sound would be. In the time since, Cardew abandoned his avant-garde roots for music based in his Maoist ideology and my interest in the composer waned, as it did in many music circles. But with the rediscovery of European improv in the 90s, Cardew has become more in vogue again. This rerelease of the original Scratch Orchestra realizing two paragraphs of the Great Learning has done much to reanimate the reputation of this fascinating composer, performer, conceptualist and political activist. The complete text score of The Great Learning is seven pages long and yet, in performance, it lasts over nine hours. Each paragraph of the work takes a portion from one of the seminal texts of Confucism and sets it in a conceptual framework. Paragraph Two is an elegant conception. The "orchestra" (drummers and singers) are divided into small groups of one drummer and several singers, dispersed throughout the performance hall. The drummers are given a list of rhythms from which they may choose. Once the rhythm is established, the singers sing words on any of 25 "sentences", scale fragments, singing a word on each note and holding each note for the length of a breath. When each "sentence" is finished the drummer moves on to another rhythm and the process is repeated. In concert, the audience is invited to move around from group to group, or to stand in one place and experience the overall sound. In the recording of course, the latter is all we can do, but the overall sound is oddly affecting. Through the cacophony of drumming droned notes seem to appear and disappear, and the rhythms coelecse and then pull apart again. The work feels less like a musical performance and more like a shamanic ceremony, doubtless exactly what Cardew was going for. While paragraph 2 is all energy and wild abandon, paragraph 7 is light and peace. The conception for this paragraph is even more simple than for Paragraph 2. The score consists of 25 events (sing 9 (F2)swept away - this means sing the words "swept away" nine times with two of the times loud and the rest soft) and a set of directions. Each performer is to pick an individual note for the first event and us it for the duration of the event. During each subsequent event, each performer picks a note that they hear another singer singing. The result is a very complex chord that, over the time of the work, gradually becomes more simple, until it morphs into an open fifth. (Reports claim that this always happens even though it is never specified in the score.) Cardew displays a deep knowledge of human musical behavior and psychology in this piece, but the results are much deeper and more effecting than the concept. Paragraph 7 is a half an hour meditation on tone and the spirituality of tone. The rest of the disc is filled out with material by David Bedford, a colleague of Cardew's during the Scratch Orchestra period. The Two Poems for Chorus on Words by Kenneth Patchen are both interesting works, but they are more conventionally avant-garde than Cardew's work. Portions of the piece sound like things that would be written by Ligeti or Xenakis, based on clusters, vocal glissandi and the gradually morphing of soundshapes. The performances must be considered definitive. The Bedford pieces are performed by the Northern German Radio Choir of Hamburg and are expert. The Great Learning is performed by the Scratch Orchestra, a group of Bristish avant-garde experimentalists from the 60s along with their friends, family and people off the street. Cardew's work was not meant to be performed by trained singers and it shows, but in a good way. Judging this work by western performance and composition standards would be like judging the vocalizations of Pygmy yodellers or backwoods Kentucky musicians. It's beyond normal western standards of good or bad and takes on the quality of a tribal ceremony. If the above description floats your boat, you should get this CD. But be warned, it is not like the European avant-garde, or even the American experimentalist tradition. Cardew is one of the grandfathers of the happening, along with Cage, Fluxus and Lamonte Young. Unlike the work of the Darmstadt serialists, which is really squarely within the scope of the western tradition and as such not quite as revolutionary as they would have you believe, this stuff has no true antecedents in western music. It can be best thought of as a sound object rather than a "composition" in the traditional sense. I find myself less interested in the details of the work and more awash in it's sonic force. Don't try to "figure it out". This is music for the body, not the mind."
The Legendary Scratch Orchestra
M. Hori | Urayasu, Chiba Japan | 01/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'd read about Cardew's "People's Symphony" and found it alive and well on this disc. The Great Learning is a riveting piece and is indeed an aural fossil of what must have been a Brontotherium of a live event. (It's inspired me to host my own event based on the Chinese "Lo-Shu.") The other pieces are by the gentleman who brought us the "Tubular Bells" of The Exorcist, and who does a rather muffled rendition of Kenneth Patchen.
Of the two composers, Cardew's piece is the most compelling. This disc is worth five stars for the Scratch Orchestra alone."