Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Filling the Cartesian Lacuna

Paul Bailey has begun a small history of the complex of Southern Californian composer-led ensembles which begins with the legendary Cartesian Reunion Memorial Orchestra. (If you visit that page, have a listen to Douglas Hein's Orlando, He Dead and Lloyd Rodger's Message for Garcia).

Although Bailey has emphasized the "say little, do much" posture, it would be cool if someone could find the time to write something more about the musical and social ideas underlying the work. At first hearing, much of the music of the Cartesians and the various post-Cartesians suggests a spirit more kindred with some English minimalists (Bryars, Hobbs, Nyman et al) than with their better-known US colleagues, however, these musicians definitely have an attitude that is uniquely their own, and I'm especially taken with their detournements of musical history from the ground bass to the Lugubrious Gondola, and -- pace Heins -- from di Lasso to Mama Cass.

Also, as someone coming from my own odd corner of SoCal, I can't emphasize enough that the Cartesians and the bands in their wake did not spring from the center of LA or from any of the influential institutional bases. On the one hand, this is a healthy phenomenon, and shows that neither the LA Phil, USC, Hollywood, or Cal Arts has a monopoly on creative music making, but on the other hand, it's impossible to get away from the downside in which working away from those institutions can leave one quite isolated from the networks of grant-giving, residencies, award-giving, and access to media. It's really one thing to say that you come from CalArts and are therefore an "alternative artist", but quite another to say that if you come from Fullerton or Redlands or Mt. Baldy Village.

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