Vol. 26 Issue 1 Reviews
Paul Lansky: Ride
Compact disc, Bridge 9103, 2000; available from Bridge Records, Inc., 200 Clinton Avenue, New Rochelle, New York 10801, USA; electronic mail bridgerec@bridgerecords.com; World Wide Web www.BridgeRecords.com

Reviewed by Jon Appleton
White River Junction, Vermont, USA

Idle Chatter Junior (1999)
Subtly shifting harmonic motion by a sometimes string-like pad underlies the vocal hocket of speech fragments by men, women, and children. Synthetic, tonal, percussive elements double the fragments. I consulted a specialist who could make out no coherent utterance. She advised me to just relax and enjoy the ride. Halfway into the work a slightly threatening and mildly creepy feeling came over me. But I continued to listen because, after all, this is Paul Lansky's fifth offering in the idle chatter genre—one he created and which is much admired. About two minutes before the end, the piece becomes gentler and more intimate. Reassured, I held on as the texture thinned to a coda of soft voices which stops when the message is complete. This work is a lot fun and there isn't much fun in computer music.

Ride (2000)
The title work of this disc is magnificent. Imagine turning the visual experience of racing down the New Jersey Turnpike at night into a dreamy sonic experience. Some will find this idea "new age," but I think it has drama where "new age" music anesthetizes. Ride's predecessor, Night Traffic, composed ten years earlier, shows the value of further developing a musical idea in the same way that the idle chatter series does. I was disappointed when at about seven minutes into Ride there suddenly appears voices and rapid percussive sounds which seem borrowed from one of the idle chatter pieces. Enough already. But after about three minutes the landscape returns (this part should have been issued as the score for A.I.—it might have saved the motion picture). When the voice/percussive motive returned again I gave up hoping for a sustained aesthetic direction. I guess I am a purist. Without the running percussive voices this work is capable of transporting the listener to spaces no instrument can go. This is one of the goals of electroacoustic music.

Looking Back (1996)
This nostalgic bauble, based on Mr. Lansky's high-school song, should encourage young composers to try their hand at short etudes based on famous classical themes. The composer writes that "we all knew the tune, as you will…" but I am afraid most musicians working with computers don't know or care much about Brahms.

Heavy Set (1998)
Describing this work Mr. Lansky writes, "I designed a computer model of the right hand of an imaginary (and very large), improvising pianist. The model attempts to think as a pianist as he moves around the keyboard, listening to concurrent lines, deciding when to add non-harmonic tones, play chords, go up, go down, play loud, soft, lyrically, firmly, and so on." Certainly the structure described is here but the intelligence is not (not that all improvising pianists are intelligent). On occasion we are reminded of Keith Jarrett's giant solo improvisations of the 1970s. The string pads become a bit of a distraction and the incessant "jazzy" passages often seem like compositional algorithms beyond the reach of the musical mind. It's clever but without tunes it verges on monotony. In his notes the composer declares, "I look forward to the day when nobody will care whether or not a computer was used in the process of making a piece." I share his wish and suspect that most people who listen to music do not care. I wonder, if I did care that a computer was used to choose the pitches and rhythms of Heavy Set, would I have found the work more intellectually challenging?

Dancetracks: Remix (1997)
Tempting as it is to reveal the compositional history of this work—you will find it in the liner notes if you are wise enough to purchase the CD—the music itself is extraordinary. There are many references to memories, musical and otherwise, in this collection of Mr. Lansky's works, but Dancetracks: Remix does it best by giving a kind of summary of electric guitar riffs as loosely remembered over time. Just as Mario Davidovsky and others opened the door to tape and instrument collaborations, Mr. Lansky demonstrates in this piece what might be done with other repertoires of other solo instruments. I am inspired to try working with the melodic and timbral character of the violin as they appear in the encores of Fritz Kriesler, Jascha Heifetz, and Kyung Wha Chung. What is also wonderful about Dancetracks: Remix is its international flavor. I can imagine this work being popular in such diverse cultures as India, Japan, and Europe. Even more gratifying to me is the American feeling of the piece. It is a work I would play if somebody asked me for a music that embodied contemporary American art music.

Paul Lansky is a prolific composer whose works set a standard for all composers of electroacoustic music. This is due not merely to his musicality but to the philosophy that underlies his work. He writes, "I remain convinced that what we hear as 'music' has everything to do with the voice of the utterance—what is being said—and less to do with the machinery it uses to speak."