Composer Monroe Golden could be considered a minimalist in the sense that he radically limits the traditional expressive parameters of music, encouraging the listener to attend to subtle gradations in sound to find meaning and expression. Most obviously, his music has a steady pulse, using mostly the same rhythmic values -- usually regular eighth note patterns. Each piece has a limited dynamic range, with few shifts in volume to create climaxes. Repeated melodic patterns that rarely include traditional development are a basic building block of his music. Within the limitations he has set for himself, Golden has developed a unique and idiosyncratic style that in its own frame of reference is surprisingly expressive. Alabama Places is a set of 12 pieces based on the composer's reflections on various locations, some as specific as a street address of a church and some as broad as a tract of land known only as Section 16. Golden modeled the set on the concept of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, but his movements are based on 12 different 24-note equal tempered scales rather than on 12 key relationships. The set is scored for piano and keyboard, which is detuned by a different degree for each piece, and which can be programmed with a variety of sounds including piano, harpsichord, reed organ, and accordion. The distinctive tunings and timbral settings give each movement a distinctive character and personality, in spite of the other restraints Golden puts on his music. The places of the title are strongly differentiated, some hypnotic, some open and welcoming, and some frighteningly mysterious. Ellen Tweiten and Kurt Carpenter play with focus and attention to the score's expressive subtleties. Alabama Places makes for an intriguing and ultimately gripping experience for the listener with open ears, patience, and a taste for adventure.
Monroe Golden: Alabama Places Review
by Stephen Eddins