Since the middle of the 20th century, gifted musicians have been doing wonderful things with the juxtaposition of live, acoustic instruments (especially those associated with the classical repertoire) and electronic sounds and samples. Composer, turntablist, remixer, and producer David Shea has been deeply influenced by some of Europe's and America's most accomplished acousto-electric musicians, including modern classicists Iannis Xenakis, György Ligeti, and Morton Feldman, as well as such leading lights of New York's downtown avant-garde scene as John Zorn, Zeena Parkins, and Ikue Mori. Book of Scenes finds him synthesizing many of his influences in a 29-part suite of musical miniatures, all of which involve live viola and piano as well as previously recorded samples of sounds both musical and non-musical, along with samples of the players themselves recorded and played back during performance. This is the kind of thing that can work spectacularly well or fizzle away into mushy self-indulgence, depending on the composer's way with structure and the performers' sensitivity and selflessness. In this case, the result is quite rewarding. The tracks vary in length from 44 seconds to 3:15, and their relative brevity has the felicitous effect of keeping the musicians sharply focused. "OM Chapelle" is a strangely beautiful piece that incorporates restless ocean sounds, while "Prepared" has a disjointed, pointillistic structure; on the aptly titled "Radio Weekend," found sounds are organized into a dense collage into which the unprocessed sounds of piano and cello occasionally intrude; "Crossings" sounds like a 12-tone composition exercise, while "Exotique" is an ironic nod to loungey big band music. Never knowing just what's going to come next, but knowing that it's going to be at least interesting, makes this album an intriguing listen. Recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson
|The Book of Scenes, for viola, piano & electronics|