Clarence Barlow


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This CD from Los Angeles River culls recordings made by Radio Bremen in 2000 of three of Clarence Barlow's nine versions of "...until...." The piece was conceived in 1972 (early in the composer's career) as a set of instructions. The principle is stunningly simple but highly effective -- a product of American minimalism. The instrumentalist plays a cycle of notes consonant to a backdrop electronic drone. As time goes by he or she modifies the cycle, slowly moving into dissonant territory. The listener gets the impression that something is going awfully wrong "until" the drone goes through a predetermined shift in the final seconds. When it "catches up" with the performer, everything falls into place -- like magic. The CD opens with the shortest of the three tracks, version five for keyboard instrument (1974). The fast-paced 11-note cycle cannot fail to evoke Philip Glass, but he never sounded this disquieting. Kristi Becker is at the piano. Version eight for piccolo flute (1981) features Lucia Mense. It is here that the effect is the strongest, maybe because of the high range of the instrument. The piece gets almost aggressive just before the drone is slowly raised a whole tone. Version seven for guitar (1980) has Seth Josel playing harmonics on retuned strings that allow him to move a quarter-tone higher. In each version, the drone is used exquisitely. Its presence goes almost undetected, ringing softly in the background, yet it provides the whole sonic context -- everything sounds with or against it. The excellent sound quality allows listeners to study every detail of these pieces.

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