Friday, February 22, 2013

Joseph Byrd re-encountered

Good news:  New World has released an album of works by Joseph Byrd, played with stylistic certainty by ACME, oka the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.  Byrd's music has long been an enthusiasm in these parts, and having these pieces from the early 1960s available goes some distance to recovering the diversity of the radical music of that era, particularly its west coast roots and branches.   Byrd connects to Young and Riley in the Bay area and later to Cage, Ono and Thomson in New York, but also to Douglas Leedy, but also should make us pay greater attention to the orbits around Barney Childs  (while we're at it, let's get some performances of Childs' Four Pieces for Six Winds, soon, with its desert-drawn gamut studies) and Harold Budd (Budd, of course, is the L.A. connection to both David Cope and James Tenney, from Budd and Childs, you also reach into the realm of Peter Garland's Soundings and Jim Fix's Cold Blue label.)

In addition to the recovery of diversity, re-encountering this music helps to strengthen the evidence that many of the musical ideas of the time were not exactly the invention and certainly not the property of individuals but were much more in the air and shared:  coming, perhaps, out of a commonly shared ambiguity with regard to serial/atonal orthodoxies (but also an equally shared distance to the neoclassical alternatives of the time) and open to the achievements of jazz, the early music movement, and the increasing contact with non-western musics; working with small gamuts and cells and of tonally suggestive materials; lots of repetition and loops; comfort with the strategic use of improvised or indeterminate elements, for example, indeterminate paths through fields of material; a preference for the extended, low and slow over the hyper-animated (that desert sound!)

Byrd is probably best-known for his work in popular music (albeit in the decided vanguard of popular music), with two very famous albums, The United States of America and The American Metaphysical Circus.  He did considerable studio arranging and producing work for others as well, often drawn from his scholarly expertise in the history and practice of American popular music — one highlight of which is definitely his arranging on Ry Cooder's album, Jazz — but this work, too, showing off aspects of the radical music as not only a compositional, but a performance practice.

Addendum: The New Music Box has a fine review of the CD, here.

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