Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pauline Oliveros - The Wanderer (2007)

If you love the sound of the accordion, but polkas just aren't avant garde enough for your tastes, then this may be the record for you. Pauline Oliveros has long been a practitioner on the instrument and is not shy about using it in unusual ways.

"The Wanderer" collects three lengthy pieces recorded live in 1983 (resulting in the slightly irritating fact that we have to put up with occasional coughing and applauding from the audience), each featuring the instrument, and with the title track incorporating an entire accordion orchestra. The first track is a sparse affair, a duo for accordion and bandoneon that is characterized by long silences interrupted by sudden bursts of sound. It was originally performed by Oliveros and David Tudor atop a see saw and was meanth to explore the sonic changes resulting from the up and down motion. Such subtlety is, unfortunately, not captured on this disc, but once you stop listening for melodic or rhythmic paterns and learn to just appreciate the sound of the instrument itself, there is a definite beauty that emerges.

This is even more evident on the twenty minute title track where a group of more than twenty accordions play together, resulting in a mesmeric shimmering of reeds that surround simply modal melodies. Eight minutes in, percussion joins the mix and the piece erupts into energetic dance like rhythms. The various rhythms and contrapuntal patterns interlock wonderfully and it's a very exciting piece throughout.

The final track is called "Horse Sings From Cloud" and is loosely scored for any number and variety of instruments using simple words like "Sound," "Breath," "Listen," and "Change." The version here is for accordion, harmonium, bandoneon and concertina. It is primarily a drone piece and this combination of instruments works very well because of their similar, but not identical, timbres. Each one has a different limitation on the amount of time that they can sustain a given pitch, and this results in a sort of out of phase pulsing. It's the simplest piece here, but also probably the most lovely, although it can take some time to get over the seemingly harsh dissonances if you're new to this kind of music.

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