Various Artists

New York School, Vol. 3

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The third and final volume in Hat's excellent series on the contribution of the New York School composers -- who were closely related to the abstract impressionist painters and the NY School poets of the same era -- is perhaps the most confounding and beautiful. It begins with easily the wildest scores on any of the three volumes, with "Folio II"." There is "Version I" and "Version II," which, when glanced at upon the page, looks impossible to read. Eberhard Blum performed a completely different reading of it on Earle Brown's Four Systems. There are no instructions on how to read the text and no instrumentation decided upon. As for "For Ann," the percussion slips along unimpeded, as if improvised -- and to a degree it is, because so much freedom is left to the performer. His "1980" (versions one and two) are almost sound collages as Blum brought along numerous sound objects, and Jan Williams rolls through his percussion kit sparingly yet insistently in both versions, opening doors in the indeterminate nature of whatever frame the compositions choose to inhabit. John Cage's "Variations III" (from 1962/63, Version 1) is written for any number of persons playing whatever. And Christian Wolff's two versions of "Edges" are both game pieces in the way John Zorn's are: Certain directions are offered to a group of players or solo performers, including the ways to interact without instructing them, as well as what to play. All of these scores are as strange and charming today as when they were written, and apart from discussions of tone and timbre, remain completely outside meta-musical discourse. They are, in other words, beyond the critical scope of musical or artistic language to capture because they are as slippery as the air they come from and return to. The strangest and most delightful inclusion here is a written text by Morton Feldman titled "Give My Regards to Eighth Street," read plaintively by Art Lange. This is done without any added accent or inflection. Feldman's written text comes across as the contentious yet amiable essay it is. Why there was no inclusion of his music might be that Hat is so deeply involved in recording Feldman's entire canon, and therefore it is fitting this should be included. (Not only for this, but because writing was as important to these composers as music and visual art was.) It offers a portrait of the time, of the excitement, struggle, and dedication -- without patting itself or its characters on the back -- of that magical moment when the notion to be free as American (not European) artists emerged once more with vigor and a determined playfulness. The only complaint is that this was not the very last piece here, but it's a small one, so forgive it, please.

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