Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Planets

I was nearly 30 before I heard the phrase, "There's no accounting for taste". Truer words were never spoken. It's also the case that over the course of my life, I've been attracted to things well out of the mainstream. Just because this music works for me, there's no reason it should for you. But if you feel the need for something fresh in your musical diet, give it a shot.

In a number of posts I've talked how excited I am about Jeff Smiley's The Balanced Embouchure approach to helping folks come at the issue of embouchure in a wonderfully accessible way. In some deep sense, I think Kyle Gann is doing something similar in helping us to rethink the possibilities of tonal music in a new and very natural way. Both Smiley and Gann seem to be saying, "Forget the experts; come at music and music making as you are." Just as Smiley talks about how one's best embouchure can't be arrived at by following rules handed down by the masters, Gann's music creates wondrous new forms by leaving behind the monotony of regular bar-lines and harmonies meant for the parlor. 

Relâche is an odd assortment of instruments, sort of a chamber concert band without brass but with a occasional viola. Gann seems to exult in oddness of timbres, even to flaunting his ability to turn it to his uses. 

All of the novel sound sculptures in The Planets mean that you can't simply assign them to familiar pattern correspondences. Several times while listening I've had the phrase " A poem should not mean but be", float up. There are a lot of times in The Planets where the sound shapes don't easily map to known quantities. But nothing is so far removed from "normal" that it's incomprehensible.

One caveat I should throw in is that I've been following Kyle Gann's blog, PostClassic for years. When you read someone's writing that closely, an image of them forms in your mind, especially if you were an English major in a previous lifetime. While there are a number of passages in The Planets where I'm not sure of their "meaning", I have the feeling of Kyle coming to life in sound.


  1. Thanks you for those inspiring and enlightened comments. Its nice to know that Relache is listened to in Orange, VA. How did you find our recording? This has been a long ordeal to put it together, both for Kyle and Relache. Its his Magnum Opus, and we have never seen such scope in one piece from one composer before. Relâche is now 30 years old, and it took Kyle 16 years to finish the piece!
    True therapy for the soul...

  2. Hi, Lloyd - Found the recording through a link Kyle had in a post some months ago when the CD first came out. His blog has been a mainstay for me for years. Out here in the country, not many occasions to talk about music, and following PostClassic is like auditing a really fine graduate course. The man has an absolute gift for writing about music in fresh new ways.

    If you come back and read this, maybe suggest to him to put a link to Meyer Media on the front page of the blog. When I wanted to find the link to get some extra copies of the CD for friends, found it because I knew it was there and what to search for. Casual readers wouldn't have a clue it's even there somewhere.