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Finding New Meaning in Deconstructed Sounds

The Consent of Sound and Meaning: The Music of Eric Richards Andy Kozar, trumpets; Jeffrey Gavett, baritone/voices; Steve Beck, piano. Jude Traxler, cuica. Robert Black, basses. Ekmeles; loadbang New Focus Recordings FCR 332 Total Time: 50:05 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

Eric Richards (1935-2020) was a composer whose work exemplifies experimental approaches to composition. Often times his music is a sort of collage of sounds and fragments that are merged and transformed through highly-organized pitch arrangement and musical elemental ideas. His approach to getting listers to hear sounds differently is on the same avantgarde edge as the work of John Cage, Harry Partch, Morton Feldman. Perhaps it is Feldman’s style with a touch of George Crumb that might best describe his own unique blending of these approaches into his unique voice. The present collection brings together some of his work from the 1970s to more recent compositions.

A Fanfare for Diebenkorn (1972) may be the most easily accessible piece on this release. The abstract nature of the work takes its cues from the paintings of Richard Diebenkorn. Here specific attacks and sustains are used to shape the brief piece for multiple trumpets (played here by Andy Kozar with studio overlays of each line). Later we get a brief work, Rocks; Gardens (1970), which is written for trumpet and piano. It presents more angular lines that are altered through variations of rhythm, timbre, register, and dynamics.

Wingsets (1973) and The Mouth of Night (1995-96) show Richards at his most experimental. The former uses quotations of Catholic antiphons. These are juxtaposed against the different textures in the piece. The other work is a study in breathing sounds for 12 voices, here performed by Jeffrey Gavett in a studio setting. It is a bit unsettling at first, but also fascinating to think how these inhalations and exhalations can have their own “pitch” sensibilities.

One can hear Richards sense of deconstructing sound and textual setting in the intense choral piece Owls, Too (2014-15). The high voices are in close harmony with polyphonic lines shifting across the six voices. A studio overdubber adds an additional reverb effect. Another text setting for a slightly larger chamber ensemble follows in Fire, Fire! (2016). Richards explores with tightly-woven motives that are flittered between the different lines here where instruments pick up and depart from the vocal statements. The Hymn to Santa Muerta (2018) is an intriguing blend of ethnic music (here a samba rhythm) with quotation music (from a song by the Greek Metal band Rotting Christ, with growling low sounds referencing that source). Here differing effects are incorporated into the text for this more extensive work that involves more overt electronic manipulation techniques.

Closing things off is the longest work on the album, the 16-minute The Consent of Sound and Meaning (1978-83) which gives the album its name as well. This unusual piece is written for ten double basses and seven trumpets. Here is a great encapsulation of Richards’ deconstruction technique. A small fragment of an idea is used in repetition as it is stretched beyond its initial sounds. Variation here extends to the relative tempo of this fragment and its various combinations across the span of the work.

Richards makes use of recording processes in these pieces but they are less a gimmick as they can sometimes feel in electronic pieces. The very effects of recorded ideas and the recording process itself is blended into the concise construction of these compositions. The influence of these pre-recorded, or studio-enhanced effects, or blended well here and it would be perhaps more apparent in a live setting as to how these are impacting the sound. The music here is at the edge of experimental styles and is obviously not going to be for everyone’s taste, but the technique and intense sounds that Richards creates here are often quite fascinating. One moves from intense emotion that can reveal glimpses of beauty as well as some most unsettling end results. This moves from the more accessible to the more intense across the presentation.

The performances here are all excellent and committed to the style of this intense and difficult work. Sound is also balanced well to help put these ideas in perspective across the sound picture in clear sound. Even at the lowest ends of the sound spectrum, the musical low ends are captured well. An album for fans of experimental music on a more extreme stylistic end.


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