Lancaster, Pennsylvania based NakedEye Ensemble, directed by Ju-Ping Song, releases A Series of Indecipherable Glyphs, a collection of works for chamber ensemble that take inspiration from rock music. NakedEye's instrumentation lends itself to the association, featuring searing electric guitar parts, growling saxophone solos, and dynamic percussion. Framed around an arrangement of Frank Zappa's Sinister Footwear II, NakedEye presents dynamic works by Molly Joyce, Richard Belcastro, Whitney George, Aaron Jay Myers, Rusty Banks, and Nick Didkovsky.
Amalia’s SecretNick Didkovsky
|01||I. An Especially Fine Dress Rag|
I. An Especially Fine Dress Rag
|02||II. Amalia, Hanging in a Painting|
II. Amalia, Hanging in a Painting
|03||III. Two Heads, Sitting Together, Snapping the Dreams of Your Sap|
III. Two Heads, Sitting Together, Snapping the Dreams of Your Sap
|04||IV. Swallow the Neck of the Guest Who Hisses When You Pass|
IV. Swallow the Neck of the Guest Who Hisses When You Pass
|05||V. Amalia’s Secret (Modelled After the One For Your Parents)|
V. Amalia’s Secret (Modelled After the One For Your Parents)
|06||VI. The Smallest Glimmer Disturbs Them|
VI. The Smallest Glimmer Disturbs Them
|07||VII. A Weak Little Gentleman, Gazing, Too Dumb to Wonder|
VII. A Weak Little Gentleman, Gazing, Too Dumb to Wonder
|08||VIII. The Letter Opened, the Bottle Broken|
VIII. The Letter Opened, the Bottle Broken
|09||IX. Shamefaced Smiles and the Back of Frailty|
IX. Shamefaced Smiles and the Back of Frailty
|10||X. All Debts Owed Paid, She’d Survive This Too|
X. All Debts Owed Paid, She’d Survive This Too
|11||Sinister Footwear II|
Sinister Footwear II
|12||[These Hands] Hold Nothing|
[These Hands] Hold Nothing
|13||Dum Spectas Fugio|
Dum Spectas Fugio
|14||Less is More|
Less is More
On their new release, A Series of Undecipherable Glyphs, Lancaster, Pennsylvania based NakedEye Ensemble focuses on mixed ensemble works influenced by rock music. From works by Zappa to Aaron Jay Myers to Molly Joyce, NakedEye presents music that is invariably shaped by the inclusion of electric guitar, saxophone, and percussion. The result is an album that toggles between music that conjures the spirit of 70’s jazz/rock fusion and works that have more of an atmospheric, post-minimalist sensibility.
The album opens with Nick Didkovsky’s Amalia’s Secret, a collection of ten miniatures whose musical material is derived from an automatic music generation software Didkovsky designed called Nerve2.hmsl. Twelve musical parameters are established and chance operations and statistical formulas populate the fields, resulting in related but independent instrumental parts. The piece is anything but mechanical however, as off-kilter rhythmic loops, conversational duos, metal inspired distorted riffs, hypnotic ostinatos, and meditative textures combine into a balanced suite of contrasting sounds.
The music in Frank Zappa’s Sinister Footwear II appeared in several contexts in his output, including as a part of a three movement ballet and within the live set of his touring bands in the late 70s. Zappa’s music calls for a unique kind of mastery, of rhythmic complexity in a groove oriented, driving rhythmic context. The taut unison rhythms, overlapping percolating loops, and whammy bar infused guitar solo in Mike Bitts’ 2015 arrangement for NakedEye capture the enthusiasm for eclecticism that characterized Zappa and his cohort.Read More
The next three works on the album all engage with very regular pulse, shifting material around it to create a dialogue between static and changeable elements. Whitney George’s [These Hands] Hold Nothing is organized around a steady quarter note, the mechanical ticking of a clock (the “hands” of the title). Flowing, repetitive lines evolve around this fixed pulse, emerging to the foreground and then receding again. The ambient texture is occasionally interrupted by a pulse at a different tempo than the “clock,” introducing momentary rhythmic dissonance into the texture. Rusty Banks’ Dum Spectas Fugio also places clocks front and center. Banks created a kind of “prepared ensemble,” assigning pre-recorded clock sounds to instrumental notes, building glitchy machines of sound that illuminate how time, though fundamentally unchanging, can be perceived at different speeds depending on context. Molly Joyce’s Less is More includes a lighting part in live performance, adding a visual parameter to the aesthetic experience. The music is spare and carefully considered, with a notable tempo increase at its midpoint that represents a structural marker.
Aaron Jay Myers’ Strabismus returns to the Zappa sound world, with intricate unison ensemble rhythms that split into prismatic multi-layered textures. Jagged, mixed meter edges propel the music forward. The bass articulates airy, mysterious grooves as the treble instruments dot the soundscape with chordal washes and fleeting gestures, and hocketed gestures bounce around with visceral energy.
NakedEye finishes this release with Richard Belcastro’s Nepetalactone, a musical portrait of the effects of catnip on its feline subjects. After a sleepy intro, the cat ingests some of the energizing element, and the music shifts into a higher gear. A bluesy shuffle groove underlies slinky unison melodic lines, as Belcastro slowly develops the ideas, chopping the motives up into small parts. A slow middle section is characterized by free, exploratory material before the catnip kicks in again and the piece settles into a 7/8 groove for climactic saxophone and guitar solos.
– Dan Lippel
Produced by Ju-Ping Song
Recorded and mixed by Chad Kinsey
Mastering by Ryan Streber, Oktaven
Photo Art by Kenneth Kurtz
Graphic design by Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com
An eclectic eight-member electro-acoustic ensemble with classical, rock, and jazz DNA, award-winning NakedEye Ensemble commissions and performs seminal works by cross-over and cutting-edge composers. Presenting music of the imagination utilizing acoustic, electric, toy, kitchen, and noise-making instruments, NakedEye’s body of repertoire reflects the group’s mission to innovate and explore musical expression outside of convention. From notated works to guided improvisations for flexible instrumentation, the group has established a new music presence in its home city from which it collaborates with composers and performers to import and export musical works in a rich, ongoing artistic exchange. NakedEye believes in the power of new music to surprise, uplift, and change. Commissioned works have received first prize at NYC’s UnCaged Toy Piano Composition Competition (2011) and grants from New Music USA (2014, 2017). NakedEye's mission is supported by Thomas A. and Georgina T. Russo Family Foundation, Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, and individual donors. Based in Lancaster, PA, NakedEye Ensemble is led by pianist Ju-Ping Song.
The latest release from NakedEye, the Pennsylvania-based group, leans into the contemporary classical-goes-rock conceit, particularly in its early going. There, you’ll find a complex item by Frank Zappa (“Sinister Footwear II”), as well as “Amalia’s Secret” — a 1990s work of 10 miniatures from the composer and guitarist Nick Didkovsky, all of it generated by his software Nerve2.hmsl. (Think algorithms meeting chance operations.) That method winds up generating plenty of kick and surprise. But I prefer Didkovsky’s other music, like the 2020 album “LOUD,” from his Doctor Nerve project.
To my ear, it’s on the final five tracks of the NakedEye album — representing the majority of its running time — that things open up. The composer Whitney George wraps some ghostly mystery around regular pulses in “[These Hands] Hold Nothing.” Rusty Banks’s “Dum Spectas Fugio” uses ticking clock sounds and electric bass to create grooves that can conjure turntablism, the Minimalism of Marc Mellits and some gentler moods. Aaron Jay Myers’s “Strabismus” suggests an affinity with some of Zappa’s notated music but sounds less self-consciously zany. And substantial works by Molly Joyce and Richard Belcastro — all richly interpreted by NakedEye — round out this adventurous recording.
— Seth Colter Walls, 8.27.2022
Were I to throw a large party, I’d set this new release on random shuffle until enough guests noticed that the tracks were beginning to sound familiar. The selections are alternately stimulating and mesmerizing. NakedEye Ensemble, out of Pittsburgh, have hitched their axes to Frank Zappa’s star, and his legacy. He left so much music still to be explored, it’s high time more groups put together arrangements like track 11, Zappa’s Sinister Footwear II. With the recent agreement between the Zappa family trust and Universal Music, we’ll likely hear more renditions of his extraordinary work.
Rhythmically exacting and full of rapid, jagged melodic passages, shared by multiple unison voices, Footwear is just the right follow-up to a more mysterious and occasionally tiresome work of AI meets improv, Nick Didkovsky’s Amalia’s Secret. I’m allowing some oldster grump when it comes to art that’s in part generated by algorithms. Some of it is pretty cool, but some of it just sounds… mechanical? I imagine my party guests won’t much care about how the ten brief segments were generated. I’ll just go open more wine.
Following are five more tracks, two that drop clocks (yet MORE automatism!!) into the mix. [These Hands] Hold Nothing by Whitney George ticks and tocks, and Dum Spectas Fugio by Rusty Banks clunks and clonks; both beat more or less at 60 per minute, and then Less is More by Molly Joyce (in performance accompanied by a light show) raises the pulse while easing into meditation. They’re all much better pieces than I’m making them sound, and the playing is gorgeous.
Rounding out the disc, Aaron Jay Myers’ Strabimus and Richard Belcastro’s Nepetalactone take up the Zappa-ista torch. The latter title is the psychoactive ingredient in catnip. Fun stuff, well played.
— Max Christie, 11.18.2022
The Pennsylvania outfit NakedEye Ensemble bring us a collection of chamber works that are very much rooted in rock’n’roll ideas, where searing guitars and wild percussion often populate the dynamic pieces.
The first 10 tracks belong to Nick Didkovsky’s “Amalia’s Secret”, as the dreamy clarinet, acrobatic drumming and spirited electric guitar make for an avant-garde version of rock that’s fascinating, and “Sinister Footwear II”, by Frank Zappa, follows with soulful sax, airy flute and firm keys complementing the dense bass and electric guitar in often groove friendly and rhythmic ways.
In the middle, Rusty Banks’ “Dum Spectas Fugio” is quite hypnotic and abstract in a mechanical sort of fashion, while “Less Is More” uses mesmerizing keys and subtle percussion for the intimate Molly Joyce composition that does build into an emotive landscape.
Richard Belcastro’s “Nepetalactone” exits the listen, and it’s a cautious mix of winds, brass and strings that abruptly bursts into a sonically charged rock’n’roll adventure before retreating to calm again. Interestingly enough, this final track is a musical portrait of the effects of catnip on felines.
Call them avant-rock, new classical, experimental electro-acoustic or a combination of all 3, there are few outfits out there as daring or accomplished as NakedEye Ensemble, and this exceptional body of work further solidifies them as the best of the best in area of chamber music.
— Tom Haugen, 2.24.2023
A Series of Indecipherable Glyphs (New Focus Recording) is an eclectic album by Pennsylvania-based group the Naked Eye Ensemble. If you’re not familiar with this ensemble I suggest giving them a listen. They’re a unique blend of modern classical, avant-garde, experimental rock-crossover and electro-acoustic band, all of which is featured on this stunning album. The album features original pieces by composers Nick Didkovsky, Whitney George, Rusty Banks, Molly Joyce, Aaron Jay Myers, Richard Belcastro, and an arrangement of Frank Zappa’s Sinister Footwear II. The album as a whole is a wonderful showcase of the composers - a number of whom wrote their pieces specifically for this group - but also demonstrates the versatility of the group and their ability to seamlessly weave in and out of any genre with ease.
The album opens with Amelia’s Secret, a suite of 10 pieces by Nick Didkovsky. The material for each piece was derived through the composer’s custom software called Nerve2.hmsl, which uses algorithmic and stochastic processes to generate musical material. The end result is 10 highly unique postcard pieces that feature Didkovsky’s very idiosyncratic sound world that fuses heavy metal idioms with modernism and classical traditions. It covers the gamut from hypnotic swirling textures to dense interwoven counterpoint and walls of sound. Overall, Amelia’s Secret is an impressive collection of pieces that serve as a good introduction to Nick’s music, as well as a showcase of the versatility of the ensemble and a great opener for the album
The second piece featured on the album is an arrangement of Frank Zappa’s Sinister Footwear II - the version found on Zappa’s 1984 album Them or Us. The ensemble executes Zappa’s intricate rhythmic complexity and overlapping melodic phrasing with seeming ease. The standout for me, as a huge Zappa disciple, is Chad Kinsey’s guitar solo. Zappa devotees will probably know that the guitar feature on this particular piece is a key feature with a long list of guitarists who have contributed to recordings. Kinsey’s solo is a mesmerizing onslaught acting as a centerpiece in the middle of the arrangement that transitions perfectly into the thematic material of the 2nd half. If you’re a Zappa fan then this is a must-listen, and if you’re not a Zappa fan then this might make you a convert.
The next two pieces on the album share a connection in that they are centered around the concept of time while utilizing recordings of clocks and repetition of a steady pulse. Whitney George’s [These Hands] Hold Nothing, scored for guitar, bass, vibraphone, piano and electronics, opens with reocrdings of mechanical and clocklike sounds (the “hands”) that culminate in an explosive pulse. The piece quickly becomes a dichotomy of consistent quarter note pulse that gets passed around the ensemble while the other instruments decorate around it with tintinnabuli, lyrical melodies and interruptions. There are also brief moments of rhythmic dissonance in which some voices break from the strict duple divisions to create rhythmic and temporal dissonances within the framework. George’s piece is a wonderful example of really dedicating a work to a single concept and drawing as many possibilities out of a singular idea, especially one so simple and direct. It’s a piece that derives its beauty from the details of the whole and exploration of moments as they develop and change over time, even though the piece maintains a consistent identity throughout
Following George’s captivating work is Rusty Banks Dum Spectas Fugio (while you watch, I flee; a common phrase often found on and associated with sundials and clocks. Banks’ piece also focuses on strict pulse with auditory references to machines and specifically to clocks, similar to George in that regard but different in that it takes on a more active, playful and rhythmically varied approach. It is scored for flute, clarinet, saxophone, cello, guitar, bass, percussion, piano/controller, but it could be said that this piece is scored for “prepared mixed ensemble” in which each member takes on a different type of cock sound through assigning pre-recorded clock sounds to accompany the more traditional timbres. The piece floats between different approaches to time - strict and constant, slow, fast, pulsed but sustained juxtaposed against pulsed and articulate. The central idea is that time can maintain a certain identity, but the rate at which we perceive it can change depending on context. I think that concept is executed quite well, and even if that central core were to get lost in the translation I would still find this a very engaging and rewarding listen
The fifth work on the album continues the focus on repetition and minimalist approaches with Molly Joyce’s aptly titled Less Is More for piano and percussion. This one stands out being the only duo composition on the album (with the exception of selections from Didkovsky’s suite), so that alone sets it apart. The central focus of consistent pulse is established right out of the gate with the piano playing a single note in tandem with a kick drum. Over time new notes and melodic fragments are injected into the framework and doubled by the percussionist on glockenspiel. Similar to George’s work, this is also a wonderful example of dedicating oneself to a single idea and exploring it thoroughly. While that is a central tenet of minimalism, I don’t know that I would necessarily label this piece as simply minimalist because of the variation from moment to moment, even though the pulse and repetition is at the center of the structural framework. There is a noticeable change in tempo that occurs near the midpoint of the piece in which lower piano octaves are introduced, the energy intensifies and the melodic fragments that once interrupted sparingly become the central focus of the musical fabric
The penultimate piece on the album is Aaron Jay Myers’ stunning Strabismus for flute, clarinet, saxophone, guitar, bass, drum set, piano; a rock and jazz inspired composition that evokes many of the same idioms one hears in the Zappa arrangement earlier in the album. Strabismus contains intricate rhythms, unison melodies, bombastic interruptions, frenetic energy and a harmonic palette that exists comfortably in both modernist styles and experimental rock or heavy metal. Myers takes full advantage of the unique instrumentation of the Naked Eye Ensemble and their ability to fluidly drift in and out of various styles and aesthetics with an organic flow from one section to another, creating an interesting and engrossing musical narrative. In contrast to the preceding works, Myers focuses on moment-to-moment instrument interactions, variations of the similar materials passed through different timbres, elongations and tructations of ideas, hocketed melodies, and rhythmic counterpoint. Overall I found this to be a wonderful piece that demands repeated listens to catch all of the rapid-fire musical detail and nuance.
If you’ve ever wondered what a piece inspired by catnip might sound like, look no further than Richard Belcastro’s Nepetalactone, for the full ensembl. This piece is similar in style/aesthetic to Myers’ in that there is a much clearer influence of rock and jazz, as well as the use of heavily pulsed intricate rhythmic interplay within the entire ensemble, but both works maintain a clear sense of the composers’ unique identities. As I stated previously, the central concept of the piece is an exploration of the effects of catnip on cats. The piece shifts in and out of calm placid music juxtaposed against frantic, exciting and energetic sections with shifting pulsed infectious grooves. The formal structure offers a calm opening with a marked change in the second section introducing the first rock-inspired section that eventually fades into another period of calm reflection. The final section of the piece begins just after the midpoint of the recording and extends through the end and returns to the previous groove-oriented material from earlier. While still frenetic it eventually settles into a consistent 7|8 with combating saxophone and guitar solos. In the same way the Didkovsky was a great showcase of the ensemble’s breadth, Belcastro’s piece is a very fitting end for what is a really stellar and exciting album from start to finish
I really cannot recommend this highly eclectic and beautifully recorded album enough. There is guaranteed to be something in there for everyone, and I feel would serve as a great primer for anyone who might want to dip their toe in the world of contemporary music.
The Naked Eye Ensemble Is: Susanna Loewy (flutes), Christy Banks (clarinets), Ryan Kauffman (saxophones), Peter Kibbe (cello), Chad Kinsey (electric guitar), Mike Bitts (electric bass), Darren Lin (percussion) and Ju-Ping Song (piano/keyboards, founder).
Earlier this week, I received the brand-new CD by the NakedEye Ensemble.
This is one very impressive album.
"A Series Of Indecipherable Glyphs" kicks off with 'Amalia's Secret', a piece that was written for the ensemble by Dr.Nerve mastermind Nick Didkovsky.
(Do contemporary classical albums 'kick off' or do they just commence or start ?)
'Amalia's Secret' counts ten movements. Short and varied. Intriguing. Narrating, but sometimes also powerful. Very nice.
Apparently generated by a piece of software that was written by Nick.
The record label's website and the streaming services lists the names of the each of the movements. Fascinating.
The second piece on the album is Frank Zappa's 'Sinister Footwear II', in an arrangement of Mike Bitts, the ensemble's electric bass player.
This is one of my favourite Frank Zappa compositions, especially after listening to the NakedEye Ensemble's version.
Flute, piano, cello, saxophone,... and a guitar solo...
Such beautiful colours.
Rusty Banks' 'Dum Spectas Fugio', Molly Joyce's 'Less Is More', Aaron Jay Myers' 'Strabismus' and Richard Belcastro's 'Nepetalactone' follow.
I wasn't familiar with any of these composers, but these pieces are a fine introduction and they fit the album perfectly.
To be honest, I have only listened to these once, as I keep going back to the first two pieces, but I'll get there eventually.
Recommended listening !
Available through Bandcamp for digital streaming and download, but also out on CD for those who (like me) fancy these sweet polycarbonate round things.
Here's the slightly different album artwork of the CD, and, yes, you'll have to look twice.
— Peter van Laarhoven, 8.30.2022
The members of American Wild Ensemble may not intend to be thought of as “wild” musicians, but the members of NakedEye Ensemble would seem to be just fine with such a designation. The eight players performing on a New Focus Recordings release offer seven works in all, five written for the group and a sixth arranged for it. The avowed intention here is to present rock-and-roll-inspired music with a mixture of acoustic and electronic instruments, all within the confines of a more-or-less-classical chamber ensemble. The sonic combinations are multifarious if not quite endless, and the varying sounds of the pieces on offer – written for differing combinations of instruments – make the disc a treat for fans of contemporary genre-bending music with distinct electric and electronic elements. Nick Didkovsky’s 10-movement Amalia’s Secret (1994) is the oldest original work here, and is one of those pieces whose form of creation is important to know for an audience to appreciate the piece fully. Didkovsky did not exactly compose the music – rather, he had it composed by software he designed. Interestingly, the work – whose sections range in length from 19 seconds to two-and-a-half minutes – sounds neither better nor worse than many contemporary compositions created first-hand by composers (rather than second-hand by composers’ created software). The rock-derived material is quite clear in the use of drum sets, riffs, fast-changing rhythms and other compositional elements, and if the work comes across as nothing special, it does show that a computer program can produce material as good, bad or indifferent as human-created music. Frank Zappa’s Sinister Footwear II is the piece arranged (in 2015) for NakedEye Ensemble; Zappa’s original dates to 1981. Zappa was a first-rate musician as well as a somewhat Dadaistic thinker, and this piece manages to convey both rock and pseudo-classical idioms more effectively than do other works on the CD that were specifically designed to put across that mixture. Whitney George’s oddly titled [These Hands] Hold Nothing (2018) features a clocklike underlying ticking (hence the “hands” of an analog clock) with various sounds intertwining above, around and through the steady beat – an effective approach, although the piece does not sustain very well for its full nine-and-a-half minutes. Rusty Banks’ Dum Spectas Fugio (2018) also includes clock sounds, here arranged to sound weird, discomforting and almost aleatoric in their combinatorial aspects – again, an intriguing experiment, but one that outstays its welcome at an eight-minute length. Molly Joyce’s Less Is More (2017), the only piece on the CD neither written nor arranged for these performers, uses only piano and percussion; here there is some non-clock-related regularity of underlying pulsation with varying occurrences surrounding it and a mid-work speedup that helps sustain the piece to the end. Aaron Jay Myers’ Strabismus (2016) is a more-direct tribute to Zappa than the other pieces here, but it is imitative rather than interpretative and comes across as trying too hard to reproduce some of the effects that Zappa attained – not effortlessly in Zappa’s case, by any means, but characteristically. The CD ends with Richard Belcastro’s Nepetalactone (2015/2021), whose title refers to catnip and is an affectation – calling the piece “Catnip” would have been just fine. In any case, this is an almost-Impressionistic portrayal of the effect of catnip on a domestic feline, starting languorously (presumably before the cat encounters the catnip) and then becoming considerably more energetic, bouncy and scattered. The overall sound of this work is more in the jazz-and-blues area than the rock-and-roll region, and there is something salutary about that: the pieces on the CD combine the instruments of NakedEye Ensemble in various ways, giving the disc a variegated sonic aura, with Belcastro’s work joining those of Zappa and Joyce as the most-interesting music in sonic terms. And it is in those terms, rather than anything involving compositional techniques or underlying plans and meaning of the works here, that this disc is most enjoyable.
Since younger classical musicians—and presumably composers—tend to have unlimited tastes in what they listen to, you’d think that a lot of groups would have crossover impulses. But I actually haven’t encountered anyone like NakedEye Ensemble, which identify as a classical-music group (an octet) with a rock-based style. Six of the seven works on the program were either commissioned by NakedEye or arranged for its instrumentation: flute, clarinet, saxophone, cello, electric guitar, electric bass, percussion, and piano. The sound generally tilts toward rock-style electric instruments, but each composer also has to write for classical orchestral instruments.
A sky’s-the-limit approach befits a chamber ensemble that describes its range as “new classical, avant-rock, and experimental electro-acoustic.” This leaves few stones unturned as far as contemporary repertoire goes, and although they aspire to perform Frank Zappa’s Sinister Footwear II like a “kickass band,” these are seriously trained performers who set a high standard of musicianship in everything here. Most of these works use at least six, and usually all eight, members of the group, the exception being a piano-percussion duo in Molly Joyce’s Less Is More.
The only composer extensively covered in Fanfare is Frank Zappa, whose three-movement ballet (danced by life-sized marionettes, including one of Michael Jackson) is from 1981. With Zappa’s characteristic zaniness, Sinister Footwear centers on a manufacturer who employs illegal immigrants to make chartreuse-and-purple tennis shoes (“The Ugliest Shoe in the World”), which become a sensation. The eight minutes from the complete score arranged for NakedEye presents lively but moody music that is continually catchy, if not quite kickass. Zappa’s effects are cooler and more settled than you might expect.
If the Zappa makes for an almost nostalgic listen, another polarity is occupied by the 10 miniatures that comprise Nick Didkovsky’s Amalia’s Secret from 1994, which makes it the second-oldest work on the disc. As the composer describes his methods, “Much of the scored material in Amalia’s Secret was created by a second-generation of automatic composition software that I completed in February 1994, called Nerve2.hmsl.” The program “creates contours for 12 musical parameters,” which sounds alien to conventional techniques, but the first piece, “An Especially Fine Dress Rag” (the 10 titles are word scrambles from two sources, including Kafka), is a jaunty, jazzy duet for clarinet and bass. Complications soon arise, but the colorful instrumentation, which I presume is Didkovsky’s and not the software’s, is varied and ingenious. Some of the 10 pieces do sound computer generated (i.e., randomly jumbled), but snatches of familiar music help stitch everything together in a fascinating way.
Novel sounds are indigenous to contemporary music, which here includes the ticking and clacking that forms the background of Whitney George’s [These Hands] Hold Nothing, against which a sinuous line for solo flute is particularly enticing. Molly Joyce adheres to almost pure Minimalism in Less Is More, particularly in the piano part of this duet with percussion. Joyce tells us that the piece is based on two guilty pleasures, light and pulse. The pulse comes through, but half the effect is lost when we cannot see the lighting that is part of the work’s impact in live performance.
Aaron Jay Myers has an eye affliction, strabismus, that relates to his piece of the same name because the blurriness in his eyesight is translated into the blurred focus in the treatment of themes as Strabismus unfolds. The texture is tightly knit and the mood jazz-like at the outset until the melody gets deconstructed and morphed in various “blurry” ways. The amalgam is very effective, but I’d call the idiom much closer to jazz than rock much of the time.
Richard Belcastro named Nepetalactone after the active chemical ingredient in catnip. We aren’t far away from Zappa’s hip whimsy when Belcastro remarks in his notes, “As animals go, cats are already pretty ‘Rock N’ Roll,’ so it’s no surprise that they enjoy a little herbal recreation as well.” The music is another example that feels closer to jazz than rock. As with most of the works here, Nepetalactone uses a secure beat to provide a rhythmic thread as more unpredictable events arise. Belcastro’s idiom has a cat-like suavity at the outset but soon diverges into eclectic episodes tailored specifically to each member of NakedEye.
One of the most appealing things about this collection is that the music doesn’t always wear a serious mien; sometimes it approaches the light-hearted. Rusty Banks is bemused regarding the title of his piece: “The saying Dum Spectas Fugio mocks the clock user for using the clock. ‘As you watch, I flee.’ There are better ways to use your time than standing there watching it leak away, the clock seems to say with a smirk.” Time gives Banks’s music its texture and method: “Using recordings of clocks from the National Clock and Watch Museum in Columbia, Pa., and loading them into a sampling keyboard, I create a sort of ‘prepared’ ensemble with certain clock sounds tied to certain notes on certain instruments.” What sounds at first like a clock shop at full tilt turns into breezy instrumental writing that Banks calls optimistic, unfolding with greater complexity and giving the instruments more independence from the clocks. The last part “grows heavier, less optimistic, and murkier as it continues. Then the piece stops. But time doesn’t.”
For me this is the most entertaining contemporary-music release of the year, and NakedEye, which is based in Lancaster, Pa., deserves compliments for the astuteness behind their commissions. The group was founded in 2013 by pianist and director Ju-Ping Song, who is also a toy pianist; here she is called upon to play on a Wurlitzer and controller in addition to the piano. Song is a nimble, adroit performer, as is everyone in NakedEye. I have no doubts about offering a strong recommendation.
My disc didn’t come with a booklet, but extensive program notes can be found online. They are jargon-free and eminently readable. Huntley Dent
— Huntley Dent, 11.30.2022