The Masaoka Orchestra

What Is the Difference Between Stripping & Playing the Violin?

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What Is the Difference Between Stripping and Playing the Violin? contains two compositions by West Coast avant-garde artist Miya Masaoka. Although an accomplished koto player, Masaoka does not play on this CD: her hands are full conducting her 16-piece ensemble. The first piece, "24,000 Years Is Forever," uses mostly the string section, with short contributions from the brass section and a brief appearance by the rhythm section toward the end. The title relates to the half-life of plutonium and the piece commemorates the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb. A little scholarly in the writing, it still packs a lot of emotion, thanks mostly to a tape of children sounds interwoven through the violin lines. But the main interest of this record is the second piece (and title track), a 35-minute work. It was written following the murder of five prostitutes in Masaoka's neighborhood. Shocked by the lack of reaction and outrage from the public and media, the composer tried to translate in music the disparities and conflicts between "good girl" and "bad girl." The piece was performed and recorded (in part) directly on Market Street in San Francisco with the help of erotic dancers. The music combines chamber music passages, rock fury, and orgiastic funk. The cut-and-paste style mimics the cruelty of urban life, which is nice, but overall the piece lacks some cohesion. Still, this is a work of maturity as much in the social commentary as in the writing itself. It draws on every resource of the Masaoka Orchestra (acoustic and electronic, classical and rock), and also integrates excerpts of interviews with prostitutes and members of the audience. By trying to touch everything, the composer may have gone too far, but it's still a fascinating and surprisingly engaging piece. The Masaoka Orchestra features on this recording, among others, the talents of Georges Lewis on trombone and Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn.

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