Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Shere Songs & Such

I've quickly become very fond of these two sets of songs by Charles Shere, to texts by Carl Rakosi (here) and Lou Harrison (here).  The Rakosi-text'd pair are for mezzo accompanied by violin and percussion, the Harrison set of four for tenor and accordion.  (It's always useful to have some art song repertoire accompanied by instruments other than the piano!)  Both sets are recognizably within that uncanny valley in which Mr Shere's music seems to reside, composed intuitively in that space where the modern and anti-modern as well as the plain and the artful are superimposed.  Playing through Shere's music, as I am like to do (his Sonata ii: Compositio ut explicatio is another long-term tenant of my piano top), I've often had both (a)  the sensation of being unsure whether it belongs more to the 'teens and twenties of Stein and Duchamp and both the musical ultramodernists and Virgil Thomson (at his naughtiest) or to a somewhat more recent — and distinctively Californian — vintage, and (b) the certainty that any such distinction is, in the end, unimportant.  This is deceptively simple music, the materials edging on the commonplace, but I'd reckon that the algorithm required to re-write them would almost certainly be at least as long than the pieces themselves; this is a complexity of an uncanny and irretrievable compositional context.

Mr Shere was, for many years, also a critic, and an important one, and I am a constant reader of his two blogs, The Eastside View, which is mostly travel and cultural writing, an natural extension of his critical activities, and Eating Every Day, a faithful journal by perhaps the best-fed composer around (and one with an enviable personal and professional connection to that center of Californian cuisine, Chez Panisse), with some of his best writing around some deep aesthetic issues — quality, locality, tradition and innovation among them.  These two sets of small songs are definitely of a piece with that writing.

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