Under an Hour was originally composed as one-time accompaniment for a modern dance performance at Portland, OR's Time-Based Art Festival in September, 2004. But after working on the composition for up to eight months, Menomena's three members decided to commit the music to tape. For those of us who missed the one-and-only showing of Under an Hour, we can be thankful they did. What's impressive about Menomena's score is not only how well it accompanied the dance (clips are available through the band's website), but how effective it is without any visuals at all. Composed of three nearly 20-minute sections, the music was written to mirror the dance's three movements: "Water," "Flour" and "Light." Each of Menomena's members were responsible for writing one section, and each attended multiple rehearsals by Portland's Monster Squad dance troupe. Integrating the music with the unique choreography wasn't easy -- for "Water," the dancers performed in two inches of water on a specially built stage. The floor was covered in powder for "Flour," and in "Light" a ceiling installation lowered lights into the dancers' space at timed intervals. But the band also had to capture in music -- on "Water," for instance -- such esoteric ideas as "purity," "scarcity" and "play."
Brent Knopf wrote "Water," and it opens the disc with drone-like lines, minor-key trellises and prog-ish crescendos. Piano, viola, baglama (a baby bouzouki), toy piano, organ and guitar conjure a watery world of misty fogs, cascading waterfalls, and torrential tempests. Justin Harris' percussive "Flour" most closely resembles Menomena's quirky keys-and-drums-centric pop songs. Here, the cymbal crashes, the drums thunder, and a baritone and alto sax bleat accompany the powdery clouds stirred up by the dancers and a story line about "anthrax," "cocaine," "strike," "settle" and "explosion" -- whatever that entails. Danny Seim's "Lights" proved the most difficult to pull off live from a technical standpoint. On disc, it leans predominantly on a combination of long e-bowed guitar lines and a variety of sampled beats, but the result does succeed in suggesting the buzz of fluorescent lights or the flickering of dying light bulbs. Each movement seems composed like a mini-suite, so the tempo changes and textural variations keep the momentum moving forward pretty much throughout. You probably won't reach for Under an Hour first thing every day, but the occasional spin reveals more of its charms each time.