|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
While this has been a summer mixed with fun home projects, wonderful travels, and unexpectedly dolorous turns of life, I have been able to sit down and just listen to music at various points along the way. As mentioned in an earlier post, my summer began with a potpourri of CDs to go through. I've listened to all of them and immediately enjoyed a couple (Earl Greyhound, TV on the Radio), intrigued by some but still processing (Janelle Monáe, David Lang, Hans Rott) and not wholly satisfied by others (The Dallas Wind Symphony performance of Percy Granger's band music-love the source material, not so much all of the readings; some interpretations seem a bit mannered, stiff, or surprisingly considering Granger's music, flat). On my trip to the western part of the country last week, I was going through my iTunes library to listen to a few things I hadn't in a while and came across "Pilentze Pee" performed by the Bulgarian The National Radio And Television Chorus of Bulgaria (the so-called Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares). I first heard the song, one of my all-time favorites, years ago on one of my all-time favorite CDs: Late in the 20th Century: An Elektra/Nonesuch New Music Sampler.
From the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary, a sampler is defined as "a decorative piece of needlework typically having letters or verses embroidered on it in various stitches as an example of skill" or "something containing representative specimens or selections." And how do you show a good "example of skill" in a sampler? Well like the mix tapes of yore, whose creation seems to be a lost art ("And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth."), it depends on the maker, the listener, and the purpose. Sometimes a sameness of style and tone is required, whereas sometimes vertiginous diversity is needed. But for samplers from record companies, a more utilitarian and obvious function is necessary: to get people interested in purchasing albums from artist on the sampler. And before there was a Napster (which for me, when I discovered it sometime after it was more widely known, was a music sampler--trying on different artists I read or heard about (Radiohead and Björk are two examples) before I needed to commit), a good radio station/show or a CD sampler was the way to do it. The Nonesuch sampler, which a few years after release spawned a Volume 2 that suffered the curse of the sequel, was a thrilling overview of music, that up to that time, I had little to no knowledge of. What was it like to experience for the first time John Coltrane, Le Sacre du Printemps, or Charlie Parker. I wondered if it was similar to my virgin listening encounter with the music on the CD.
Bought at Tower Records in 1987 when their CD section was a couple of small bins and the disc packaging was a profligate waste of cardboard called a longbox, Late in the 20th Century was among one of the handful of CDs I first owned, having just bought a CD player at the beginning of that year--one which I still have and still plays CDs, although the quartz display long ago went blind. (As an aside, it was an old Technics which had a great function that you didn't see much of in later years: an A/B button. You could specify a particular section of the CD to loop and repeat for as long as you wanted. I wished future CD players had had that as it was handy when learning saxophone solos like "Mr. Magic", the first I completely learned).
Anyway, I'm not sure why I bought the CD in the first place but it deserves this humble encomium for in those long ago, rapacious listening days of a beginning composer, the performances and compositions on Late in the 20th Century not only provided immense joys, ever protean surprises, and glorious inspiration, I now realize that they also were a palimpsest on which I started to slowly build my own musical voice and style upon. It was the trail head for many paths of musical discovery, of which I'm still traveling.
Track 1: "White Man Sleeps #1" by Kevin Volans performed by the Kronos Quartet from album White Man Sleeps
(love the energy of the piece, with it's loping, asymmetrical opening rhythm; I didn't buy the album, but was introduced to Kronos Quartet, of whom I did subsequently buy other albums)
Track 2: "The Chairman Dances" by John Adams performed by Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Symphony from the album The Chairman Dances
(upon reflection, this piece might have been why I bought the CD in the first place because I remember reading at the time something about the Nixon in China premiere in the paper. I think this was the first piece of John Adams I ever heard and this performance is still my favorite of one of my favorite pieces. Full of Gershwin-esque life and jazzy motion and a cinematic scope, it was a visceral combination and a lighthouse to a gestating composer groping his way in the musical fog. It was years later before I assimilated the lessons stolen (ahh...learnt) from the piece and over the years, it certainly lead me to padding Nonesuch's sales figures as I discovered (and bought) more and more works of John Adams)
Track 3: "Pilentze Pee" from Le Mysterie des Voix Bulgares
(I don't know what the words they are singing mean but I love all of those close intervals and otherworldly wailing and had to buy the CD)
Track 4: "Spillane (excerpt)" by John Zorn from Spillane
(my first auditory exposure to John Zorn after reading about him in downbeat (I actually had a subscription way back then); with it's flighty shape shifting between styles, as well as its' noir-ish voice over, I didn't listened to this piece too often, although it didn't turn me off to Zorn's work. I just didn't like this)
Track 5: "Hattie Wall" by Hamiet Bluiett performed by the World Saxophone Quartet on the album Dances and Ballads
(Hamiet's bari sax bass line just tears through you with the funk; got to hear this live at the 27 hour! Bang on a Can Marathon in 2007)
Track 6: "This New Generation" by Wayne Horvitz from the album This New Generation
(kind of an electronica lounge music with the cooing tenor saxophone and 80's drum machine and beat, I could see this on the soundtrack to Twin Peaks which premiered a few years after the CD)
Track 7: "Garota de Ipanema" by Antonio Carlos Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes performed by João Gilberto from the album João Gilberto Live in Montreux
(beautifully calm and moving reading with just João Gilberto and a guitar)
Track 8: "John Somebody (Part 1)" by Scott Johnson from album John Somebody
(got to love this fun piece for solo electric guitar and tape; "you know who's in New York, remember that guy, J...John Somebody, he was sorta...b")
Tracks 9 and 10: "Company (Part 1 and 2)" by Philip Glass performed by the Kronos Quartet from the album Kronos Quartet
(full of a quiet, yet almost romantic yearning tone, this is still one of my favorite Philip Glass pieces)
Track 11: "Ionisation" by Edgar Varese performed by The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble from album Percussion Music
(someone needs to arrange this into a drum line feature for marching band or drum and bugle corp)
Track 12: "Chohun and Gyamadudu (excerpt)" from album Dances of the World
(this track recorded in Ghana grooves, but was always one track I skipped as it never grabbed me like some others)
Track 13: "Tonggeret" composed and performed by Idjah Hadidjah from the album Tonggeret
(love this song and even after all of these years, Idjah's voice still drips with passion for me. Like the song from the Bulgarian choir, I don't know the meaning of what she is singing, but it moves me every time)
Track 14: "Drumming (Part 4)" by Steve Reich performed by Steve Reich and Musicians from the album Drumming
(although this wasn't my first exposure to his music, it was one of my early experiences. And maybe interestingly knowing how other later Steve Reich compositions affected me, this was one of those tracks I really didn't listen to; Drumming is much better to embrace live)
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To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.
Thanks and credit to all the original photos on this website to: David Andrako, Concrete Temple Theatre, Marcy Begian, Ed Lefkowicz, Donald Martinez, Kimberly McCollum, Geoff Ogle, Joseph C. Phillips Jr., Daniel Wolf-courtesy of Roulette, Andrew Robertson, Viscena Photography, Jennifer Wohrle, Carolyn Wolf, Mark Elzey, Numinosito. The Numinous Changing Same album design artwork by DM Stith. The Numinous The Grey Land album design and artwork by Brock Lefferts. Contact for photo credit and information on specific images.