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Didier Aschour/Dedalus (France): Tom Johnson: Rational Melodies

Track List

>Rational Melodies: Part 1
>Rational Melodies: Part 2
>Rational Melodies: Part 3
>Rational Melodies: Part 4
>Rational Melodies: Part 5
>Rational Melodies: Part 6
>Rational Melodies: Part 7
>Rational Melodies: Part 8
>Rational Melodies: Part 9
>Rational Melodies: Part 10
>Rational Melodies: Part 11
>Rational Melodies: Part 12
>Rational Melodies: Part 13
>Rational Melodies: Part 14
>Rational Melodies: Part 15
>Rational Melodies: Part 16
>Rational Melodies: Part 17
>Rational Melodies: Part 18
>Rational Melodies: Part 19
>Rational Melodies: Part 20
>Rational Melodies: Part 21

Album Remarks & Appraisals:

Tom Johnson (b. 1939) belongs to a generation of American composers who founded musical minimalism. We know that this term was first applied to the visual arts, notably to Donald Judd, Robert Morris, and particularly Sol LeWitt, whom Johnson recognizes as an influence. However, it wasn't the repetition in itself that interested him, but rather the idea of music as a process. Steve Reich applied this idea brilliantly in his phase pieces. But after 1975, while the same Reich distanced himself from the radicalism of his first works, and younger American composers came out with music that was lusher, more expressive, even sentimental, Johnson insisted on the unrelenting rigor of formalized processes. The Rational Melodies, composed in 1982, may be regarded as the outcome of this research, first of all by their sheer quantity, but also by the fact that they summarize brilliantly and clearly procedures from the past, present, and future, which together characterize his work: combinations of cycles of different lengths (I, IV, XI, XVII, XVIII), permutations (VII, X), the paper-folding or "dragon" formula (II, XIX), other automata (XVI, XX), or self-similar structures (XIV, XV).

"Explanations are sometimes "quite unnecessary, because the logic of the works often remains sufficiently simple to be perceived directly in listening," writes Gilbert Delor in a fine essay accompanying this latest offering from Tom Johnson, which is in fact the third time 21 Rational Melodies has appeared on disc (a solo flute reading by Eberhard Blum came out on hatART in 1993, and Roger Heaton’s clarinet reading appeared on Ants four years ago). And it’s trueThe forceful unison playing at times recalls earlier ensemble masterpieces of linear and block additive process minimalism, notably Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together and Louis Andriessen’s Hoketus, but much of the music is light and playful. Of course, if you like your minimalism more static and monolithic, go for Niblock instead, and if you want something pleasant to chug along in the background while you serve petits fours salés to your trendy friends, you’d be better off with Koyaanisqatsi, but if you’re prepared to sit down quietly and appreciate the simple beauty of mathematics, this’ll do nicely." - Paris Transatlantic é

"Explanations are sometimes "quite unnecessary, because the logic of the works often remains sufficiently simple to be perceived directly in listening," writes Gilbert Delor in a fine essay accompanying this latest offering from Tom Johnson, which is in fact the third time 21 Rational Melodies has appeared on disc (a solo flute reading by Eberhard Blum came out on hatART in 1993, and Roger Heaton's clarinet reading appeared on Ants four years ago). And it's true...The forceful unison playing at times recalls earlier ensemble masterpieces of linear and block additive process minimalism, notably Frederic Rzewski's Coming Together and Louis Andriessen's Hoketus, but much of the music is light and playful. Of course, if you like your minimalism more static and monolithic, go for Niblock instead, and if you want something pleasant to chug along in the background while you serve petits fours sales to your trendy friends, you'd be better off with Koyaanisqatsi, but if you're prepared to sit down quietly and appreciate the simple beauty of mathematics, this'll do nicely." - Paris Transatlantic

Album Notes

Liner Note Authors: Tom Johnson; Gilbert Delor .

Recording information: Muse en Circuit studio, Paris (10/06/2008).

Composer Tom Johnson, based first in New York and then in Paris, is a practitioner of one of the purest styles of musical minimalism. Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass have broadened their musical languages to the point that referring to their mature styles as minimal betrays a basic lack of understanding of the term or of their work, but Tom Johnson can, without any doubt, be described as a minimalist. Rational Melodies, from 1982, was a seminal work for Johnson, a pure example of what Reich described as "music as a gradual process," in which the principle of organization behind the piece was audibly evident in the music. These are tonal (or modal) melodies, with a regular pulse, made up of repetitive structures. Johnson begins with a series of pitches (usually of equal duration) and applies a mathematical formula to divide the series into smaller units that are transformed over the course of the melody. The principle is not new; it is similar the medieval isorhythms also used extensively by Messiaen, in which a phrase is repeated, but the number of notes in the rhythm is not the same as the number of notes in the melody. The effect is that in each repetition, different notes are highlighted, giving each iteration of the melody a distinctive contour and character. Johnson's melodies are simpler than those of Messiaen or the writers of medieval isometric motets, and the danger is that the music could sound too simple, too transparently repetitive. In the French ensemble Dedalus, led by Didier Aschour, Johnson has a strong and musically sophisticated advocate; the group has played this work many times in a variety of instrumental configurations and is intimately familiar with its subtleties, so in their performance, the melodies are richly varied in instrumental colors and textures tailored to the character of each melody. While this is not an album likely to appeal to audiences whose main interest is the standard classical music repertoire, the graceful and lovingly articulated performances should delight fans of minimalism.~Stephen Eddins



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