Various Artists

Andrew Hamilton: Music for People

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Britain's NMC label generally focuses in contemporary music that is the province of specialists, and it rarely makes the classical sales charts, as this release of music by the Irish composer Andrew Hamilton has. Hamilton's music is as procedurally oriented -- annotator Liam Cagney's use of the word "proliferation" is apt for the way his pieces develop from the simplest of gestures -- as that of any of his labelmates. But it also happens to be entirely accessible, even compelling, and it is no surprise to see it appear on British classical charts. Sample Music for people who like art, and see if it doesn't make you drop everything and listen to it all the way through. The text is from an old art manifesto called 25 Lines of Words on Art Statement by Ad Reinhardt, but this is not really important: Hamilton has an intriguing way of setting text so it is just short of intelligibility. The entire 20-minute work consists of a series of stops and starts, of a single chord over long stretches that you can't quite pin down. Voices enter and repeat the word "art" (you may not know quite what it is they're saying), finally adding to it in the later stages. Place the work under the minimalist rubric if you have to, but it really will sound like nothing you've ever heard. The other two works are only slightly less gripping: To The People sets texts from Jean Baudrillard's postmodern classic America, and instead of one long movement consists of 19 short ones, and Music for roger casement -- for harmonium and ensemble, and cut from the same cloth as the other two works -- honors the memory of a British diplomat who was executed for his support of Irish revolutionary aims. Cagney writes that "[a]t times in Hamilton's music, in its siftings of shards and micro-values, it's as if we're listening not just to the composition but to the act of composition." The music indubitably has that kind of edge.

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