“Glimmering Webs” is a comprehensive collection of Christopher Bailey’s solo piano music, displaying his uncommonly broad palette. Featuring pianists Shiau-uen Ding, Augustus Arnone, and Jacob Rhodebeck, Bailey’s keyboard works explore avant-garde modernism, alternate temperaments, minimalism, and indeterminacy in fresh and unexpected ways.
|01||Composition For Shitty Piano with Drum Samples, Concrète Sounds, and Processing|
Composition For Shitty Piano with Drum Samples, Concrète Sounds, and Processing
|02||Fantasy-Passacaglia After Hall & Oates|
Fantasy-Passacaglia After Hall & Oates
|06||Prelude-Fantasy on the So-Called Armageddon Chord|
Prelude-Fantasy on the So-Called Armageddon Chord
|11||To Those Who Would Crush My Will|
To Those Who Would Crush My Will
|12||Dancing Sylvan Denizens|
Dancing Sylvan Denizens
|13||Waltz (in 17-tone Equal-Divisions-of-the-Octave)|
Waltz (in 17-tone Equal-Divisions-of-the-Octave)
|14||Ditty (in 19-tone Equal-Divisions-of-the-Octave)|
Ditty (in 19-tone Equal-Divisions-of-the-Octave)
Christopher Bailey’s “Glimmering Webs” is a comprehensive collection of his piano music written between 1993 and 2013 and displays several threads of influences and interests, from avant-garde modernism to irreverent pastiche and ambient sonic beauty to gleeful silliness. Some composers cultivate a singular focused voice that you can immediately recognize as soon as you hear it. Others are more restless, finding themselves drawn to several different aesthetics and excavating diverse voices within themselves. Bailey is in the second category, yet a clear voice emerges despite his omnivorous stylistic appetite. His music demonstrates a penchant for deconstruction and irony (witness “Fantasy-Passacaglia after Hall and Oates”, employing a compositional approach that Bailey calls “minimalism as a way into maximalism”, as applied to a typical chord progression from the 80s pop duo) paired with the romanticism and sensuality of ambient music (best demonstrated by the twenty minute long Brian Eno-esque “Meditation”, a deeply immersive work for piano and live processing). The overall result is that this two cd collection, performed with precision and elegance by New York based pianists Shiau-Uen Ding, Augustus Arnone, and Jacob Rhodebeck, encompasses a wonderfully balanced expressive range, from melodrama to humor, and from rhetorical compositional argument to deeply felt emotional music.
Bailey’s “Composition for Sh!$$y Piano” engages with his interest in indeterminacy; the piece essentially embraces the unpredictability of sub-par pianos and makes that characteristic its core parameter. In this spirit, much of the piano part is written in graphic notation instead of designating specific pitches, acknowledging the reality of crappy pianos -- you never know which pitches will have problems. The inclusion of the musique concrete materials in the electronic part lends a tinkering quality to the sound world, as if we have found ourselves in a musical workshop.
Neo-classicism also plays an important role in Bailey’s work, particularly in the monumental “Piano Sonata,” which features an extended variations second movement and various experimental approaches to the classical structure of Sonata form. The last work in the two cd set, “Ditty”, also employs a Classical rounded binary form, but filtered through 19-tone equal temperament tuning. In a way, this short piece is a perfect summation of Bailey’s work -- grounded in compositional tradition but attracted to experimentation, and presented with a healthy dose of wit, self-deprecation, and irreverence.
All works by Christopher Bailey
Shiau-Uen Ding, piano (tracks 1-4, 6, and 11)
Augustus Arnone, piano (track 5)
Jacob Rhodebeck, piano (tracks 7-10)
Christopher Bailey, electronic realization (tracks 12-14)
Ryan Streber (oktavenaudio.com), engineer (tracks 2, 5-11)
John Bosch & Aaron Mason (Westport, MA), engineers (track 1)
Christopher Bailey (Jamaica Plain, MA), engineer (tracks 12-14)
Joe Patrych (Patrych Sound), engineer (tracks 3, 4)
Born outside of Philadelphia, PA, Christopher Bailey turned to music composition in his late ‘teens, and to electroacoustic composition during his studies at the Eastman School of Music, and later at Columbia University. He is currently based in Boston, but frequently participates in musical events in New York City. His music explores a variety of musical threads, including microtonality, acousmatic and concrète sounds, serialist junk sculpture, ornate musical details laid out in flat forms, and constrained improvisation.
Recent commissions include Empty Theatre, a piano concerto with string orchestra, commissioned for a portrait concert of his music as part of the Sinus Ton Festival in Magdeburg, Germany (October 2014); a chamber-music version of Mergurs Ehd Ffleweh Bq Nsolst, ostensibly a field recording of denizens of the planet Mercury, featured on MATA’s 2013 festival in New York City; Composition For S#1††¥ Piano, Drum Samples, Concrete Sounds, and Processing, for the Allen Strange Award of the Washington Composers Forum; Harvest Kitchen, commissioned by Harvestworks in New York City; and Out Of, written for Marilyn Nonken.
He was a 2nd-Prize recipient in the Seoul 2005 International Composers Competition in Korea (Timelash); Balladei (for piano and ‘tape’) was a finalist at the Earplay competition in 2007; Sand (an interactive computer-music composition) won a mention at Denmark’s 2007 Infinite Composing interactive computer-music competition; Walking Down the Hillside at Cortona, and Seeing it’s Towers Rise Before Me (for 2 pianos tuned to 19-tone-equal-temperament) won a mention in the 2009 Salvatore Martirano Competition at the University of Illinois. Previous awards include prizes from BMI, ASCAP, and the Bearns Prize.http://www.christopherbaileymusic.com/
Untethered reveries: two-disc set explores shimmering soundworld of Christopher Bailey
To listen to Glimmering Webs, a two-disc odyssey through the piano works of Christopher Bailey, is to experience a music firmly grounded in tradition, but which uses that tradition as a starting-point from which to explore the sound of the instrument in a scintillating sound-garden. This is most readily apparent in the neo-Classical Piano Sonata, which offers flashes of Haydn glimpsed through the prismatic, shifting textures. It’s in the handling of texture that Bailey most readily tramples Classicism, mercurially changing between lyrical figures, block chords, and Ligeti-style flourishes in a restless exploration of all that the piano can achieve. The piece is faultlessly executed in this recording by Jacob Rhodebeck. Balancing this usurping of traditional form is the shimmering colour of Meditation III, which unfurls like an untethered reverie. Bailey demonstrates a deft comic side, too, in the sardonic Waltz (in Seventeen-Tone divisions of the Octave) and Ditty (in Nineteen-Tone divisions of the Octave), which are even more manic Satie than Satie himself. The unfolding process governing the Dancing Sylvan Denizens, allied with the use of just intonation, offers a Terry Riley-esque take on minimalism, yet one that is more focused than Riley’s quasi-extemporary flights of fancy, underpinned as always by a light-footed rhythmic sense. Overall, the two-disc set offers a full realisation of the myriad compositional approaches that inform Bailey’s music: traditional, playful, sometimes process-driven, yet sure-footed and always brimming with colour. Glimmering Webs is released on the New Focus Recordings label; more details can be found here. -- Dan Harding, Shock of the New, 2.4.16
Listening to the opening piece on this compendium of Christopher Bailey's solo piano music, I find myself trying to decide whether it makes more sense to call the American composer a dadaist or Surrealist. Mulling over such a dichotomy makes sense, given his stated interest in reconciling oppositions, whether it be between traditions or schools (maximalism vs. minimalism, Schoenberg vs. Stravinsky, etc.), and attempts to synthesize such oppositions surface throughout the album. Performed by New York-based pianists Shiau-uen Ding, Augustus Arnone, and Jacob Rhodebeck, the striking pieces on this comprehensive double-CD portrait certainly warrant the Glimmering Webstitle given to it.
After studying electroacoustic composition at the Eastman School of Music and Columbia University, Bailey's expansive appetite now encompasses microtonality, computer music, ambient, indeterminacy, electronica, and musique concrète, among other things. All such interests emerge in one way or another on Glimmering Webs, which collects piano music written between 1993 and 2013, and while there's no doubting the serious with which he pursues his creative endeavours, he also leaves room for silliness and irreverence (a snippet of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” for instance, works its way into the opening movement of the Piano Sonata). Like any artist, dadaist, Surrealist, or otherwise, he resolutely follows where his artistic urges take him.
The album begins with one of its most audacious pieces, Composition For Shitty Piano with Drum Samples, Concrète Sounds, and Processing. Performing on a severely pitch-challenged instrument, Ding delivers a bravura performance, and the accomplishment impresses even more considering that much of the piano part was written using graphic notation instead of conventional pitches. Unfolding like a thirteen-minute collision of untamed pianistic and percussive forces (a bit of ragtime even intrudes upon the proceedings), the dada-like convulsion resembles something John Zorn might have midwifed during the earlier part of his career.
Not everything, however, on the release is so wild. In the cheekily titled Fantasy-Passacaglia After Hall & Oates, Bailey borrows a typical chord progression from the “Sara Smile” duo, though it's not so explicitly stated it stands out as immediately recognizable; in fact, compared to the opener, the piece registers as a comparatively straightforward example of Bailey's writing. Performed by Rhodebeck, the four-movement Piano Sonata, at forty-four minutes a CD-length recording all by itself, sees the composer exploring neo-classicism and (in the second movement especially) granting ample space to the gentler side of his music. Bailey's interest in ambient music and alternate tuning systems comes into play during Meditation 3, a twenty-one-minute setting for piano and live processing whose becalmed quietude feels galaxies removed from the freneticism ofComposition For Shitty Piano with Drum Samples, Concrète Sounds, and Processing; sensitively rendered by Arnone, Meditation 3 is one of the recording's most appealing pieces as well as one of its most sensual.
But lest anyone get the wrong impression, Bailey reinstates the experimental tone of the album's beginning by concluding Glimmering Webs with three electronics-enhanced pieces, Dancing Sylvan Denizens, Waltz (in 17-tone Equal-Divisions-of-the-Octave), and Ditty (in 19-tone Equal-Divisions-of-the-Octave), all of which prove ear-catching for their unusual alternate tunings. Building bridges between the traditional and experimental is all in a day's work, it seems, for this determinedly open-minded composer. - Ron Schepper, textura 2.26.16
I admit to some trepidation when I received this 2 disc set of piano music by an unfamiliar composer. Even in the best of circumstances the “double album” concept can be a trying thing even to fans of a given artist. I think I recall some similar trepidation confronting the newly released Elton John Yellow Brick Road double album. I invoke some pop sensibility here in part for humor but also because that sensibility is one of the many threads that imbue this rather massive collection of pieces.
Christopher Bailey is a freelance composer who holds degrees from Eastman (BA, 1995) and Columbia University (MA, 1997 and PhD, 2002). This is the eighth disc to contain his music though only the second to be dedicated entirely to his works (and his first double album).
The first disc is a journey of styles ranging from electroacoustic music (like the opening track which resembles the work of Mario Davidovsky at times) to several whose inspiration seems to venture closer to that of Pierre Boulez and ends with a lengthy sort of post minimalist piece appropriately titled, Meditation. The composer says in his liner notes that this piece is his homage to “ambient music” and in particular, Harold Budd. The second track is a piece which is a sort of deconstruction of a Hall and Oates song, the pop sensibility to which I referred earlier. And, yes, there is some nod to microtonalism as well. Can you say eclectic?
The second disc contains the large Piano Sonata and a host of smaller works in various styles ranging from neo-classical to microtonal.
In the rambling liner notes the composer provides useful clues as to the genesis and intent of some of his ideas. One need not read the notes to appreciate the music but the clarity that they provide was useful to this listener. More notes would have been appreciated though. The composer’s and the pianists’ web sites are certainly useful but I doubt that the average listener will spend that much time researching these things and is then left with gaps in information and consequently in understanding.
The composition dates here range from 1994 to 2013 and embrace a wide swath of styles all with a strongly virtuosic aspect. The second disc starts with the brief Prelude-Fantasy on the So-Called Armageddon Chord (2011). The title is almost longer than the piece and, while it’s a fine work, the placement at the beginning of the disc preceding the major opus of his four movement Piano Sonata (1994/1996/2006) is a bit confusing.
I don’t mean to quibble with such things as track order and such but I was left with a sense of difficulty focusing. Here is a large collection of music which ranges through pretty much the entire gamut of the last 200 years of music and it is presented en masse. I think some re-ordering might have been helpful but that is one of the difficulties with multiple disc issues. I listened numerous times to these discs and find the sheer volume and diversity a bit overwhelming. It is as though this is too much for a single release.
Bailey says that the sonata is an homage to Stravinsky and those neo-classical elements are certainly clear but this listener hears some ghosts of Charles Ives and the polystylism of Alfred Schnittke as well. The Sonata seems to be the highlight here. It is wonderfully complex, kaleidoscopic, loaded with quotation, even grandiose at times, but eminently listenable and it is a highly entertaining piece also because of it’s virtuosity which is ably handled by the performer.
There are apparently three pianists on this recording, Jacob Rhodebeck, Shiau-Uen Ding and Augustus Arnone. The problem is that it is not clear from the labeling or the notes who plays what. This is actually a fascinating and engaging collection, well played, but I was surprised to be unable to attribute the various virtuosities to the deserving performers.
The recording, mastered by Silas Brown, is as good as it gets. Overall quite a collection but one that left me with many questions as well. Perhaps that was, at least partly, the intent but it is my hope that these ambiguities will not distract the listener and that more releases will be forthcoming. This is very interesting music deserving of serious attention.
-Allan J. Cronin, 12.3.18, New Music Buff