rare and forgotten experimental music

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Daniel Goode - Circular Thoughts

This is the first cassette release I'm posting on this site, and it's an excellent album released on that most dead of dead formats.

Daniel Goode is best known as one of the founders of the contemporary gamelan group Gamelan Son of Lion, but has composed quite a bit of non-gamelan music. He also co-founded the excellent New York group The Downtown Ensemble, and has been one of the few composers to work consistently in a minimalist style of music as a gradual process. As Steve Reich outlined famously in the 1970s, this is music where things occur slowly, and at a rate which can be easily understood and followed by any listener, according to a predetermined, simple structure. At least, that's how I think of this type of music, I may be way off from Reich's actual definition. Goode's got some CDs out on Tzadik and XI records, which I haven't heard but definitely want to check out.

"Circular Thoughts" was composed in 1974, and was first released in a version for gamelan, played by Gamelan Son of Lion and included on their "Gamelan in the New World" album, released on Folkways in the 1970s then re-released on a double CD on the amazing Locust records along with GSOL's other Folkways LP. This here is a solo clarinet version played by Goode himself, and while it's recognizable as the same piece, it obviously sounds very very different.

"Circular Thoughts" starts on some very quick ostinati, with a nice melodic pattern. The real meat of the piece begins a couple of minutes in. After a short silence, the clacking of the clarinet keys can be heard without any notes. Goode slowly, quietly begins blowing in the clarinet, and doesn't let up much for the duration of the piece. An exploration of circular breathing techniques, the material of the piece is really just a fast ascending modal scale repeated endlessly, but Goode accents different notes at different points, pulling melodies out of the repeated figure. The accented notes then slowly recede back into the texture of the scale pattern. At times, the effect makes it sound like several instruments playing, not through any multiphonics or anything, just by having a repeated textural bed with individual notes popping out. At times it almost sounds like a solo version of Steve Reich's early phasing music, which doesn't make any sense but there you go.
Towards the end of the piece Goode starts to throw in some traditional scottish (?) melodies now and again, making a nice little contrast to the repetitive stream of scales before. Incredibly beautiful, meditative, and probably my favorite piece of music for a solo, monophonic instrument.

"Selected Chambers" is a very different piece. According to the notes, it is something of a collage of compositions and performances of Goode's pieces, as well as birdsong played at different speeds and backwards, and soundscape recordings of a stream. The piece starts out very sparse, then gradually builds in density with more and more birdsong until clarinet recordings start to come in after about 10 minutes. The birdsong and clarinet continue and are electronically manipulated and mixed together, creating an overall slowly developing, atmospheric piece. Reminds me of some of Jon Gibson's work mixing field recordings, electronics and clarinet, like his "Extensions" on "In Good Company" (the previous album posted on this blog), but Goode's work here is more abstract, atmospheric, experimental and less new-agey than Gibson's.

This cassette was released in 1987 on Frog Peak Music, a publisher and label which still exists, though this release is long out of print.