Hannis Brown, Q2 Music
Hannis Brown is the associate producer for Q2 Music, WQXR’s online web stream for contemporary classical (or “new”) music.
The Living Earth Show has never been one to bow to classical music subtlety. The San Francisco-based guitar/drum duo of Travis Andrews and Andy Meyerson is readily capable of every possible orchestrational extreme of its instruments, from the mind-boggling complexities of Brian Ferneyhough, to microtonal post-rock meditations, to shredding that would make Eddie Van Halen break a nervous sweat. And as their sophomore release, Dance Music, illustrates again and again, there's no line so sacred that it can't be crossed ... or somersaulted over.
Dance Music unabashedly embraces the ridiculous and it succeeds every time, in part because these guys are just insanely good at their instruments, and in part because they asked five uber-talented composers to set aside any preconceptions of modern "chamber music" and push them to the outer limits of complexity, genre and well, hard-rockingness.
Anna Meredith's "Tassel" is part deranged pinball-machine music, part "Bohemian Rhapsody." Nicole Lizée's "Family Sing-A-Long And Game Night" incorporates a "Row, Row Row Your Boat"-style canonical take on "Three Blind Mice," filtered '50s commercial music and detuned guitar passages, just to barely scrape the surface. Jonathan Pfeffer's "The Bell, The Ball, The Bowtie, and The Boot" makes noise rock out of musique concrète, layering distorted field recordings of malfunctioning electronics with scratched guitar strings and mallet percussion. But the virtuosity never overtakes the musicality; the duo performs all of its music live from memory, and it's clear that every passage has been deeply internalized from insane complexity to, well, music.
The album's final numbers take on a less-overtly extreme note. For Christopher Cerrone's "Double Happiness," crystaline guitar harmonics and mallets blur and flow through a mesmerizing soundscape of quiet awe and ever-changing repetitions. Jacob Cooper's "Pasturizing II" layers the emotive, electronically manipulated voice of guest tenor Isaiah Robinson over meditative break beats and arpeggios.
Three years in the making, Dance Music was conceived as a multimedia dance presentation with San Francisco's experimental ballet outfit Post:Ballet, and while there are plenty of the shimmering textures and rhythmic propulsions one would expect in such a collaboration, it's more Zappa rock opera than any traditional concept of what ballet music may or should be. But music that simply luxuriates in the ridiculous only holds one's attention for so long. Andrews and Meyerson make it stick because regardless of how far the music goes, the heart – both with respect to the audible reverence they have for the music they're playing, and irreverence for coloring within the lines – permeates every note.
Living Earth Show: Dance Music
New Amsterdam Records | Released Oct. 28