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Earle Brown: Synergy

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Never quite as celebrated as his New York contemporaries Morton Feldman and John Cage, Earle Brown was, nevertheless, a composer of exceeding brilliance. His music bespoke of breathtaking vistas, informed by his undying love of the New England of his birth as much as it was by his exceptional grasp of the immense fluidity of compositional form. A relative concrete expressionist, he is artistically descended from Edgard Varèse in that his work emphasized timbre and rhythm. In fact, the term, "organized sound," usually associated with Varèse, might quite as easily be used to describe Brown's music. Brown was also influenced by the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock. Even though he shared with Pollock a fine sense of actively shaping the form of his work as he conducted it, because his music is rich in timbral viscosity, it appears more concrete in its form.

Earle Brown's work is celebrated by the community of avant-garde musicians with whom he was vastly influential especially for its tangible and practical aspects. Synergy does much to show why. Captured in performances in 1967/68, the two versions of his monumental composition are shaped by the dramatic floating aspect of sound brought to life by woodwinds and strings. With Brown conducting the winds and pianist, Steffen Schleirmacher conducting the strings, Brown shapes the shifting timbres and gently palpitating rhythms with his extraordinary technique of time notation and open form architecture. In both versions of "Synergy," Brown makes a majestic exposition of how time notation unfolds as it is placed in the approximate visual relationship to that which surrounds it. Brown's "time" is not indicated mechanistically as with rhythm. It is articulated—but not interpreted—for the performer. As a result, because the performer is made more aware of time, he is also more intensely aware of the action or sound he is about to play. This is also what drew Brown to the sculptures-in-time-and-space of Alexander Calder.

His serially informed piece, "Tracking Pierrot" is a work that is marked by his singular style although it doffs its hat to Arnold Schoenberg's composition of eight decades earlier. However, Brown's "Pierrot" differs in its dramatically shifting rhythms—negotiated expertly by Stefan Stopora's percussion—and in its ethereal use of spatial silence. "Windsor Jambs" is similarly constructed. Once again this piece is shaped by itinerant timbre brilliantly executed by voice, percussion and the superb woodwinds that explode together bringing a diaphanous effect to the composition as it unfurls—new standard for the avant-garde, that it is.

Perhaps this reissue, which features the collaboration between Earle Brown and the enormously talented ensemble for Leipzig will bring the composer's work the greater recognition that it so richly deserves. Brown is, after all, more than a seminal figure in the New York avant-garde of the '50s and '60s. He is a composer and conductor of great depth, influential even today among his acolytes in modern music.

Track Listing: Event Synergy II (1967/68) version I; Tracking Pierrot (1992); Windsor Jambs (1980); Event Synergy II (1967/68) version 2.

Personnel: Christian Sprenger: flute (1-4); Udine Röhner-Stolle: oboe (1, 4); IB Hausmann: clarinet, bass clarinet (1-4); Anja Barz: clarinet (1, 4); Axel Andrae: bassoon (1, 4); Salome Kammer: voice (3); Andreas Seidel: violin (1, 2, 4); Till Bü: violin (1, 3, 4); Ivo Bauer: viola (1, 3, 4); Matthias Moosdorf: cello (1-4); Stefan Stopora: percussion (1-4); Josef Christof: piano (2); Steffen Schleirmacher: piano (3), co-conductor (1-4); Earle Brown: conductor (1-4).

Title: Synergy | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Hat Hut Records


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