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At a certain point, restlessness can merge into insanity. (I couldn't tell you exactly where that point is, because I'm long past it myself.) Extreme violinist Jon Rose has proven over and over again his restless desire for creative momentum. I'm not really sure where he stands with respect to sanitybut the music he makes is unique, in the most extreme sense. His recent disc The Hyperstring Project on ReR presented a definitive thesis on the integration of improvised violin with interactive electronics. Fringe Benefits, a 2-disc 1998 retrospective, summarizes his experimental violin theatrics during his fertile 1977-1985 period in Australia. The sound quality on Fringe Benefits varies widely from distorted and noisy to sharp and clear, but at many points the noise appears to be part of the performance.
As a warning up front, Rose announces that "it is not intended that these CDs be listened to in one sitting... and that's a health warning!" He has a point. Only a listener with incredible stamina could sit through his works for cattle train and violin, fly trapped in violin, polystyrene two-string violin, violin played knee deep in the surf, violin with airport taxi and takeoff, and Chinese 1/4 size violin with 50 feeding parrots. And that's just a sampling off the first disc.
The point of this music (as can best be deciphered from the sheer randomness contained within) seems to be to explore every possible geometry, compositional framework, electronic effect, and performance style possible on the violin. Of course that's an infinite list, but Rose makes a striking effort to approach some of the more interesting possibilities. His playing ranges from straight country and western (no kidding) through more restrained 'composed' sounding passages to all-out scratching, screaming noise. No doubt Rose is a virtuoso; plenty of doubt he's sane; and extraordinary doubt that the average listener will enjoy his music. But if you've got an interest in experimental music, this 2-disc set provides a fantastic diversity of material. Fringe Benefits certainly gives a welcome background for anyone interested in the genesis of Rose's current highly-developed interactive electronic style.