Changing Platforms: 30 Years of the Contemporary Music Network

Various Artists

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Changing Platforms: 30 Years of the Contemporary Music Network Review

by François Couture

For its 13th issue, Unknown Public produced a book and CD homage of sorts to the Contemporary Music Network, an institution that has organized regional tours of avant-garde music in England since 1971. Chris Heaton was put in charge of the main text of the book and the selection of music on the two accompanying CDs. His study of the CMN's tours could have benefited from more contextual history, as it often remains limited to a catalog of artists and works performed. On the other hand, he explains the what and why about each one of his selections, turning his article into in-depth liner notes from the compiler, something too rare in this type of exercise. Still, while on the subject of a network, it would have been nice to foray into networking sociology theories or at least spend more time on the mechanics of the organization. For the CDs, Heaton adopted a chronological touring order. The music represents the CMN's wide range of interests, but most of all its shift from a contemporary classical orientation in the 1970s to something that increasingly included electronics, avant-garde jazz, and world fusion in the 1990s. It makes for a lot of variety and a few shocking encounters (Stockhausen's "Mantra" followed by Carla Bley's "Blunt Object," for instance). Most of the material was already available on CD, but collectors will find BBC recordings of works by Harrison Birtwistle, Tim Souster, and Stockhausen that have not been reissued yet. Other highlights include music by Tony Oxley, Giacinto Scelsi, and György Kurtág. The selections lack a theme to give a sense of cohesion to the discs (like in previous volumes), but their quality make a great primer of contemporary music.