Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Women's History Month: Red Shift & Oa Poa Polka

Over the course of Women's History Month at HurdAudio the music of Lois V. Vierk continues to draw me in deeper with each listen to each composition. I've also applied ears to a solo accordion work by Mary Ellen Childs. I will definitely be seeking out more works by these two composers in the months ahead.

"Red Shift" (1989) by Lois V. Vierk. Scored for cello, keyboard, percussion and electric guitar. Performed by the Bang on a Can All-stars on Cheating, Lying, Stealing (1996) on the Sony Classical label.

There's a calm intensity to "Red Shift" as the cello, guitar and keyboard play glissandos to the swells of cymbal rolls that fade in and out at roughly the same rate as the falling and rising of pitches. The texture builds outward from this basic material - adding thickness over time. A melodic theme begins to emerge as the tempo picks up and the pitches move upward in register. Over time the intensity is further enhanced by amplification as this sound continues to grow larger with each passing second. This is an otherworldly sonic landscape that creeps up and engulfs the listener. It is an incredible and beautiful sound.

The title refers to the astronomical phenomenon used to measure movement of distant objects as the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation shifts toward red hues. The allusion to vast distances and the physical properties of light is a poetic allusion to the formal shape and sound of this work.

"Oa Poa Polka" (1988) by Mary Ellen Childs. Scored for solo accordion. This was part of a collection of Polka from the Fringe - a set of 30 pieces commissioned by Guy Klucevsek - recorded on Manhattan Cascade (1992) on the CRI label.

The title is a play on the kind of additive process at work in this piece as it opens with a sparseness that is gradually filled in to reveal the oom-pah and whimsical melodic line of a polka. But this work doesn't stop once the melodic lines and accompaniment are revealed. This piece continues to build outward with added ornamentation and artfully arranged material that opens up a fully orchestrated realization for this lonely instrument.

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