Review by: Jed Distler
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 9
Charles Amirkhanian has worn many hats over the course of his career. As music director of KPFA in Berkeley, California from 1969 until 1992, he brought a distinctly experimental and vibrant agenda to the station’s programming. In 1992 he co-founded the San Francisco-based Other Minds Festival, celebrated for its wide-ranging and innovative programs. His Other Minds label is responsible for important reissues devoted to American composers such as Ned Rorem and George Antheil. Amirkhanian also produced the 1977 analog recordings of Conlon Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano, taped at Nancarrow’s Mexico City studio on his two modified Ampico reproducing pianos in the composer’s presence. Perhaps all of these activities have drawn attention away from Amirkhanian’s work as a composer of electro-acoustic and text-sound works, which are the focus of this fascinating two-disc collection.
The ten pieces of Pianola incorporate samples from recorded piano rolls, myriad ambient sounds, and occasional spoken text, all processed through a Kurzweil KS 2500 X synthesizer, and generally collage-like in nature. Pet-Hop Solo, for instance, splices and dices Stravinsky’s Petrushka into canonic segments that sound like manic Steve Reich-inspired phase shifting. To a Nanka Rose welds Nancarrow and (you guessed it) Edward MacDowell’s To a Wild Rose, while A Rimsky Business takes The Flight of the Bumblebee for a witty, kaleidoscopic joyride.
The eight pieces of Loudspeakers manipulate recordings of composer Morton Feldman’s voice, generating intriguing rhythmic and textural interplay. Words are fragmented into percussive pulses, upon which discernible text floats in and out of the mix at strategically determined moments. Listening with headphones intensifies Amirkhanian’s subtle panning from left to right channels. Two longer, continuous works are more compelling if you approach them as ambient events rather than selections that you experience from start to finish in a linear progression. Some listeners may respond more positively than I did to Im Frühling’s nature-derived soundscapes.
Son of Metropolis San Francisco is a complex yet carefully deployed 27-minute menagerie of whimsical percussion music, spoken text, electronic garble, and pockets of sustained, quasi-new-age keyboard chords. To be honest, my mind wandered while attempting to listen without interruption. When I randomly focused upon shorter fragments I enjoyed it much more. I suspect that I will return with greater frequency to Loudspeakers and Pianola. Composer Kyle Gann’s detailed and informative annotations reflect his respect and affection for a kindred musical soul who is one of the prime movers and shakers on the American New Music scene.
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Recording Details:Album Title: Loudspeakers
Reference Recording: None for this collection
- AMIRKHANIAN, CHARLES:Pianola; Im Frühling; Son of Metropolis San Francisco; Loudspeaker
- Charles Amirkhanian (electronics)
- New World - 80817 2