Dmitri Tymoczko’s “Fools and Angels” includes four works for voices and ensemble that demonstrate a wide range of approaches to vocal writing and genre. With nods to 70s progressive rock, Early Music, and minimalism, Tymoczko borrows and imports stylistic elements at will to serve a larger aesthetic vision that is unbounded by category. The album features performances by Newspeak, Illinois Modern Ensemble, Collide Trio, and a number of leading New York musicians, including vocalists Caroline Shaw, Mellissa Hughes, and Martha Cluver, drummer Jason Treuting (So Percussion), pianist Pascal Le Boeuf, and many more.
Fools and Angels
|Anne Hege, soprano, Mellissa Hughes, alto, Neil Farrell, tenor, Gabriel Crouch, baritone, Geoff Vidal, saxophone, Daniel Lippel, guitar, Pascal Le Boeuf, piano, Jason Treuting, drums|
|01||1. Fie My Fum|
1. Fie My Fum
|02||2. Strawberries and Cream|
2. Strawberries and Cream
|03||3. Bop Lyrics|
3. Bop Lyrics
|04||4. The Dressing Room|
4. The Dressing Room
|Martha Cluver, soprano, Mellissa Hughes, soprano, Caroline Shaw, soprano|
|07||2. Your Head|
2. Your Head
|08||3. First Interlude|
3. First Interlude
|09||4. I Have|
4. I Have
|10||5. Every Five Seconds|
5. Every Five Seconds
|11||6. We Can Ignore|
6. We Can Ignore
|12||7. Second Interlude|
7. Second Interlude
|Dmitri Tymoczko, narrator, Christian Bök, narrator, Collide Trio, Jonathan Sanford, saxophone, Jade Simmons, piano, David Skidmore, percussion|
|14||1. First Dream|
1. First Dream
|15||2. Second Dream|
2. Second Dream
|16||3. Third Dream|
3. Third Dream
|17||4. Fourth Dream|
4. Fourth Dream
|18||Let The Bodies Hit The Floor|
Let The Bodies Hit The Floor
|Jack Hitt, recorded voice, Rob Miller, recorded voice, Newspeak, Caleb Burhans, violin, Mellissa Hughes, voice, James Johnston, synthesizer, Taylor Levine, electric guitar, David T. Little, drums, Eileen Mack, clarinets, Brian Snow, cello, Yuri Yamashita, percussion||11:35|
Dmitri Tymoczko, member of the prestigious music department at Princeton University, writes a wide range of music that often lives at the intersection of popular and composed genres. But categorizing his music as "indie classical" would be insufficient and inappropriate. If one was compelled to cite a more compelling and appropriate term to capture the source of inspiration behind his work, “progressive-classical” might do the trick, as his music seems more closely aligned with the ambitious music of the progressive rock of the 1970s than with jangly lo-fi efforts of indie bands touring the country in overstuffed Ford cargo vans. With this album, Tymoczko, who writes his share of straight ahead contemporary chamber music as well, showcases his interest in elaborate song cycles that defy categorization, integrating elements of pop, progressive rock, jazz, musical theatre, minimalist and maximalist new music, and electronics.
More than with other elements of composition, vocal writing tends to strongly define genre. Tymoczko wades fearlessly into this complicated world of stylistic signaling without capitulating to the orthodoxy that tends to surround it: early music choral singing, light cabaret sing-storytelling, dense vocal jazz ensemble harmonies, straight tone delivery, soloistic classical singing, and spoken narrative textures all live side by side in these works. Combined with the scope of instrumental writing, from through composed sections, to conventionally improvised pitch material in various styles, to studio produced improvised effects, the result is an album that has the scope of large forms without being restricted by existing structural templates. The album opens with a burst of kinetic energy in the title track, marrying a space-age backing texture with vocal parts that suggest experimental musical theatre. Tymoczko sets the poetry of Allen Ginsberg for two of the movements here (Jeff Dolven’s texts are set in the others), capturing the quirkiness and irreverence of the beat poet deftly. The accompanying instrumental ensemble vacillates between providing a propulsive pad to painting a vivid sonic picture, as in the layered texture in the second movement. Sheila63 is a larger scale work, written for the Illinois Modern Ensemble plus three solo female voices, and plunges the listener into vast, fantastical textures. The emphasis here is on thick, rich harmonies and Tymoczko’s colorful orchestration and the work stands out as the least stylistically hybridized on the recording. Four Dreams is a work for narrator and jazz trio that is driven by the retelling of the dreams, with the ensemble in support of the evolving narrative. There is a cult underground quality to this piece, as it doesn’t shy away from the absurdities and occasional inappropriate turns of story that show up in one’s subconscious, instead presenting them tongue in cheek, with humor and a touch of self-deprecation. The final work on the recording, Let The Bodies Hit The Floor written for the ensemble Newspeak, turns the subject matter towards war, combining texts from Robert Frost among several others to create a commentary on the disconnected nature of modern warfare. Tymoczko includes pre-recorded voices recounting a battle from a soldier’s perspective, creating moments of cognitive dissonance between the soldier's words, the tenor of the musical material, and thoughts of the destruction of battle. Eventually, the horror catches up with us, as the music becomes increasingly outraged, culminating in violent hits in the drums and electric guitar that close the piece. From this politically charged work merging a traditionally sung soprano part with fragmented spoken recordings, to the stylistically diverse approach in the title track, to the humorous unveiling of the whims of the subconscious in Four Dreams, to the more conventional vocal soloists with ensemble work Shelia63, Tymoczko demonstrates a wide ranging palette of approaches to modern song, guided always by his vision of how to set the texts and not by an adherence to a pre-existing aesthetic. The ambition of this album and the music on it recalls the larger than life efforts of prog rock bands such as Genesis; Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; and King Crimson with one crucial difference - while those bands looked towards classical music’s sophisticated forms and local complexities to fulfill their expanded visions, Tymoczko looks in the other direction towards popular styles to satisfy his interest in a broader expressive range, importing those elements into a concert music milieu.
- D. Lippel
Recorded at Taplin Auditorium (Princeton), the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts (Champaign), and Mission Sound (New York City). Recorded by Andrés Villalta and Christopher Ericson.
Mixed by Andrés Villalta and Dan Art Nichols.
Mastered by Dan Art Nichols.
The recorded voices in Let the Bodies Hit the Floor come from a radio interview between Jack Hitt and Rob Miller, first broadcast on the episode “In Country” of This American Life. Thanks to Christian Bök, Jeff Dolven, Jack Hitt, Rob Miller, Dexter Palmer and the estate of Allen Ginsberg for their kind cooperation. Permission to use Ginsberg’s poetry was generously granted by the Ginsberg estate.
Publication is made possible in part by a grant from the Barr Ferree Foundation Publication Fund, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University.
Design & Typography: Marc Wolf (marcjwolf.com)
Cover image: The Fool’s Cap Map, Anonymous 16th c.
Dmitri Tymoczko was born in 1969 in Northampton, Massachusetts. He studied music and philosophy at Harvard University, and philosophy at Oxford University. He received his Ph.D in music composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently a Professor of Music at Princeton, where he has taught composition and theory since 2002. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Elisabeth Camp, who teaches philosophy at Rutgers University, their son Lukas, who was born in 2008, and their daughter Katya, born 2012. His compositions are polystylistic and mercurial, drawing on genres from the Renaissance to rock. His music has been commissioned and performed by groups including the Amernet Quartet, the Atlantic Brass Quintet, the Brentano Quartet, the Corigliano Quartet, Flexible Music, Gallicantus, the Gregg Smith Singers, the Illinois Modern Ensemble, Janus Trio, the Kitchener/Waterloo symphony, Network for New Music, Newspeak, Pacifica Quartet, Synergy Vocal Ensemble, Third Coast Percussion Quartet, and Ursula Oppens. Among his awards are a Guggenheim fellowship, a Rhodes Scholarship, the Leonard Bernstein fellowship from Tanglewood, a fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and the Block lectureship from the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics. His book A Geometry of Music (Oxford) has been described as "a tour de force" (The Times Literary Supplement), a "monumental achievement" (Music Theory Online), and, potentially, a modern analogue to Schoenberg’s Harmonielehre (The Musical Times). His three CDs, Beat Therapy ("far reaching yet utterly entertaining," Newmusicbox), Crackpot Hymnal ("ebullient … polystylistic … kinetic … vividly orchestrated and vibrantly paced," Sequenza21), and Rube Goldberg Variations ("foot tapping," "sassy," the product of "an intriguing musical voice that should interest anyone in search of a new auditory experience," Limelight), are available from Bridge Records. He is completing an album of rock-inspired pieces that mix electronics with acoustic instruments. In addition to composing concert music, Dmitri enjoys playing rock and jazz and writing words. His articles have appeared in the American Mathematical Monthly, the Atlantic Monthly, Berfrois, Boston Review, Civilization, Integral, Journal of Music Theory, Lingua Franca, Music Analysis, Music Theory Online, Music Theory Spectrum, Science, Seed, and Transition. His article "The Geometry of Musical Chords" was the first music-theory article published in the 130-year history of Science magazine. He has been invited to speak to audiences of musicians, philosophers, cognitive scientists, mathematicians, physicists, and the general public; articles about his work have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, including Time, Nature, and Physics Today.