Paul Lansky. Contemplating Weather
Bridge Records BRIDGE 9447 2015
This album consists of 3 works, dramatically illustrating the wide spectrum of different musics that Paul Lansky is renowned for bringing us:
- Tracks 1-11. Contemplating Weather (2013), a choral cantata based on poems by Jonathan Greene, performed by Western Michigan Chorale and Birds on a Wire, conducted by Kimberley Dunn Adams
- Tracks 12-15. Travel Diary (2007), a percussion work performed by the Meehan/Perkins Duo
- Tracks 16-21. It All Adds Up (2005) a piano 4-hander, performed by Quattro Mani
Contemplating Weather almost immediately has one thinking of the scenic wilderness scenes conjured in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ using music by Ligeti, one also thinks of Penderecki masses and the divine ‘Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima’. Sometimes like Gregorian Chant: sometimes reminiscent of Scott Joplin rags, George Gershwin tone-poems or even Aaron Copeland landscapes , this piece darts from one style to another: now dark and threatening, now jolly and dancing – one begins to see the relevance of the work’s title – how weather has different moods which create light and dark skies, sunshine, rain, hail, snow etc. if one has travelled in countries such as Wales or Iceland, one is often told the weather can run through its complete repertoire in a single day – bright sunlight one minute; blizzard five minutes later…. There are pure contemplative moments which have one wondering what weather this represents and I come down to the conclusion that it’s describing Humanity’s relationship with The Weather when one simply sits looking out of the window watching the clouds go by, watching the cumulonimbus build up & wondering if there will be a storm or will it just skirt by taking its wrath somewhere else…. ‘Contemplating Weather’ is both a painting in parts of the different moods created by weather and a kaleidoscope of the feelings and reflections we experience when observing the landscape presenting different facets according to how Thor, Zeus, Horus or Indra are feeling at any particular time. It’s an excellent and significant work which is a welcome addition to the canon of expressive music.
Travel Diary So…..how to describe this? Gamelan meets Zdeněk Miler’s Mole character? I’m really not sure. There’s a wide variety of percussive effects going on here sometimes individually, elsewhere in concert – and every aspect of it is interesting , effective and, most importantly, musical. But, unlike ‘Contemplating Weather’s impressions of highly visual material, I’d say this piece is almost entirely abstract, any pictures conjured drawn from one’s knowledge of, say, the aforementioned Mole’ various adventures. The moods are generally quite light [even when the percussion is heavy, if you see what I mean] so none of the seriousness of Steve Reich’s ‘Drumming ‘ for instance. Interestingly, however, the abstraction is somewhat lacking in emotion - it’s rather like a dream which is neither fairy-tale nor nightmare – it just happens – maybe like the view from the window of a train – one has no connection to the place one sees passing before one’s eyes – it’s just there…. This means one hears it without the commitment that Contemplating Weather evokes. It’s in another dimension. One doesn’t feel part of it and therefore one reacts with a neutrality that is unfamiliar – yet one can still appreciate it, like it even – and I do. A stranger in a strange land can still enjoy what he experiences although it does not equate with his normal existence. Curious….
It All Adds Up This piece reminds me of a soundtrack to a silent movie. I have heard similar music by Josiah Wordsworth – but this being a four-hander means twice as much content is possible per unit time. Once again Paul Lansky illustrates hid diversity and ability to change not just with the wind but it the blink of an eye – just the precise requirement for a fast moving film with constantly changing subject matter and scenery. Totally gripping fascinating stuff – just supply your own pictures.
So we have an album of 3 extremely different works here. One wonders if such variety is acceptable to every listener even if they do have a liking for the offbeat. All I can say is: ‘It works for me.’