Friday, August 2, 2013

Hardworking Rhythms

Last weekend at my daughter's camp, I heard live for the first time Louis Andriessen's Workers Union. It was quite an undertaking for a group of high schoolers more used to playing Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, etc. and though I wouldn't say I loved it, I did love the experience of hearing it. There is something a bit ironic about seeing a group of, let's admit it, pretty privileged kids acting out this populist message-music, but that doesn't mean it's not good for them. There's also something a bit heavy-handed about the way the political message is almost literally enacted by the musical conception, but that's a discussion for another time. I wish I had and could share video of the performance I heard (featuring mostly winds and strings with piano; I particularly enjoyed the English horn contribution to the texture and the pianist's fearless hammering - UPDATE: now available here), but here's one that gives a good sense of what it can sound and feel like:

I found an excellent description (by Jesse Rothwell) of this iconic work at the LA Philharmonic's website:
Workers Union (1975), written for "any loud sounding group of instruments," is an assault of repetition and dynamics. Andriessen replaces the pretty hypnosis of American Minimalism with jerky rhythms and dissonance. His music springs from his political idealism, his challenge of the status quo, his belief in struggle. He takes the influences of Stravinsky, the obsessively rhythmic form of Boogie Woogie jazz, and early Minimalism to create his own style; his music sounds like Steve Reich with his hand in a meat grinder.
"Minimalism with jerky rhythms and dissonance." I can attest to that, because though the piece's concept and overall effect/affect stayed with me for several days, I found that my brain started slipping something different into my aural memory, so that it became conflated with this little creation of mine:

That, of course, is Steve Reich's seminal Minimal(-ist) Clapping Music with Stravinsky's famous "Rite of Spring" chords subbed in for the original unpitched claps. It is, thus, essentially what Rothwell says about Andriessen - a combination of Minimalist repetition with brutal dissonance. Of course, I don't know what Andriessen or Reich or Marx would say about me handing over the people's rhythms to a mechanized, synthesized industrial machine, but I'm not really a political person. I do, however (as I've tweeted before), think that my Reich/Stravinsky makes excellent '70s TV car chase music. Try loading this video in one browser tab, with its sound turned low, and play the Clapping Rites video above in this tab as background. (I posted this combo once on Tubedubber, but the link won't work for me today...)

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