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No Suggestion of Silence

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Catalog Number: CPS-8685
Audio Format: CD
Playing Time: 64:01
Release Date: 2001

Track Listing & Audio Samples
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1. Frontispiece (1:37)

John Root & Perry Townsend, piano four hands

2. The Jester Sings (an elegy) (8:00)
  Hugh Williams, flute with digital effects
  3. Don't Ride Off (5:10)
  The Next Stage Speaking Chorus
  Julie Morgan
  Jennifer Raymond
  Ann Simmons
  Denise Broadhurst
  Matt Goeke
  Charles B. Griffin
  Nick Limansky
  Perry Townsend, conductor
  4. Nightvision (7:02)
  The Barbad Chamber Orchestra
  Sebu Sirinian, solo violin
  Ramin Heydarbeygi, conductor
  Suite for Prepared Piano
5. I. Fantasia (2:18)
  6. II. Gavotte/Musette (4:05)
  7. III. Passacaglia (3:11)
  8. IV. Fugue (2:02)
  Perry Townsend, prepared piano
  9. Laudate Dominum (6:27)
  The Choir of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin
  Julie Morgan, solo soprano
  Karen Fodor, solo alto
  Ken Cowen, organ
  Perry Townsend, conductor
  10. Episodes for Piano (9:02)
  Perry Townsend, piano
  11. Kaleidostrophe (15:07)
  The Goliard Chorale
  P.S. 122 Children's Chorale
  Thomas Piercy, clarinet
  Jane Lawson, cello
  Judith Olson, piano
  Perry Townsend, conductor



"Unsilent Plight" - 21st Century Music - November 2001 - by Laurie Hudicek

"It is not often that a composer's music stands out against the vast array of contemporary music recordings available today. It is, perhaps, in the detailed process of recording that the soul of the music is lost. However, this is not the case for Perry Townsend. His recording, no suggestion of silence, is truly refreshing. The composer makes it perfectly clear that these are live performances, and that all the eccentricities of live performance are present.

This is a recording of several different genres of music including varieties of piano pieces, orchestral works, and choral works. The opening piece, Frontispiece for piano four hands (1997), is a brief, jazzy, energetic work lasting about a minute and a half. This highly virtuosic piece is played breathlessly by Root and Townsend, and ends as quickly as it began. It is an unlikely prelude to this recording, for it seems to possess an entirely different character than any of the other works.

Townsend’s other traditional piano work, Episodes for Piano (1984, revised 1994), is similar to the first in virtuosity. However, the light-heartedness of the first work does not penetrate the latter. There are three characters that Townsend introduces in this work: “a swirl of sensuous cascades … a hypnotic loop of counterpoint, and … a dark, quivering bass melody.” All three are clearly introduced and intertwine gracefully throughout the piece. The characters are very similar in that they are quite dark and sensuous. The composer leaves one to question “whether the three episodes remain separate or become fused somehow.” This listener believes that these episodes seem to wander around in a seamless manner and appear to peacefully exist, occasionally encountering one another, but not disturbing the natural balance of being.

Townsend includes four excerpts from his Suite for Prepared Piano (1995). Because this recording is live, the quality of the different timbres is not as clear as one might like. The preparations seem skillfully placed, creating a wealth of different colors. However, this is probably more evident in live performance. What is needed is to be able to hear the differences between the timbres and different preparations. The most fascinating of these excerpts is the three-voice fugue “for marimbas, rattles, and gongs.” Here, Townsend keeps each voice limited to one of the three timbres that represent the above in such an innovative way that one may believe he is listening to three entirely different instruments.

Most of the remaining works on this recording can fit into the same category: eerie. Townsend seems, throughout his music, to exploit those sounds most listeners associate with the “unknown.” His vocal works, Don’t Ride Off (1998), Laudate Dominum (1998), and Kaleidostrophe (1999) all possess this same eeriness. Don’t Ride Off, a very humorous work, is written for a capella speaking chorus. The text is taken from a New York City subway station’s rules for riding an escalator. However humorous Townsend would like it to be, the word that comes to this listener’s mind is “freaky,” and although it is dedicated to commuters, it seems more likely to be similar to what a commuter might hear in his nightmares. Whispers of “face forward,” “attend your children,” and “ride safe” are extraordinarily haunting.

Kaleidostrophe fits into this same category. The composer takes excerpts of poetry from Yeats, Wordsworth, and Stein and intermingles them throughout this work for choir and children’s chorus. With the addition of cello, clarinet, and piano, all of the vocal parts are sung or chanted or whispered. The trio of instruments also seems to “speak” rather than “sound.” Imagine how projected sounds in outer space might sound if they were projected back to Earth. They might merge into one. This is Kaleidostrophe — here and there words are recognizable as something we understand, but most seem to come from some unknown place.

The two works which seem to be the most traditional are Laudate Dominum for mixed choir and Nightvision for chamber orchestra (1997, revised 2000). These two works, although quite haunting, are probably more accessible to the general public. Each has traditional scoring and recognizable parts, such as the Latin in Laudate and the swooping romanticism of Nightvision. Although not spectacles in the realm of this recording, these pieces are incredibly poignant.

The most impressive work is The Jester Sings (an elegy) for solo flute with digital effects (1995). Although there is an ever-present buzz from the digital effects, this piece is breathtaking. The flute is quite melodic and definitely character driven. At times there is the illusion of an echo, and at other times one might think there is more than one instrument. It is as if there is someone listening who grabs only select notes and holds on to them as if looking at a gem. In addition to the difficulty of playing with outside sounds, the performer has to jump between dance-like sections and moments of utter obscurity. It is perhaps disturbing but quite effective.

Although Townsend edits out the applause, the audience’s reaction is clear many times throughout the recording. There is no attempt at perfection, nor is there any excuse for unsatisfactory passages, for there aren’t any. Even with the coughs and laughs of the audience, the music is still quite powerful. Whether it is uneasiness or pleasure, certainly, every listener will walk away with something from Perry Townsend’s world."


New Music Connoisseur - Vol. 11, No. 2 - by Barry L. Cohen

"In this energetically produced disc, which seems to get a little better with each listening, there is indeed no suggestion of silence. It is, as Gertrude Stein tells us, "the reason that nothing is hidden." Or is it vice-versa.Well, anyway, these words could be used to spell out Townsend's philosophy, for even his rests are never completely silent. Is this why he tells us in his entertaining and sometimes provocative liner notes that "one need not listen to the whole disc at once; in fact, one or two pieces at a time may be enough for one sitting?" Hmmm.

He also tells us the audience sounds may be as important as the music itself. Well, that can be taken as a slap in the face of the recording process, since the ideal recording is made in a studio under carefully controlled conditions. In Don't Ride Off, a clever a cappella piece "dedicated to commuters everywhere," the composer utilizes a chorus of seven speakers contrapuntally declaiming words by a computer voice, which warns riders on a Manhattan subway escalator to be careful as they get off. The recorded laughter of the live audience at the climactic moment seemed to verify our suspicions that laughter was what Townsend was gearing us up for. However, at the CD's end we discovered that Don't Ride Off has been a sort of warmup for the more ambitious Kaleidostrophe, not so much for the fuller development of choral complexity in the latter, as for the amount of noise (shuffling, rattling, coughing) heard in the audience. We found that result (whether intended or not) rather distracting, and the work could have sounded better without it. Then, too, the composer's dense textures mask the texts which obviously inspired him in the first place, especially Stein's lines from Tender Buttons sandwiched between Yeats and Wordsworth. But Kaleidostrophe is the major work on the disc; the musical line takes on more and more beauty and the choral mix of singing and declamation seems more sophisticated when heard a few times.

The North Carolina-born and bred Perry Townsend is still a young composer, and so it may take some time before his large-scaled efforts mature. Shorter works, such as his Episodes for Piano, which he plays with authority, convince us of a firm grip on the interplay of musical ideas, in this case brilliantly intertwined yet left unresolved at the end. "Jester," scored for flute and digital effects (mostly echoes), a currently favored combination, appears well throughout, compared with the mostly self-satisfied examples we've heard. Nightvision, for chamber orchestra and solo violin, admittedly Bartok-inspired, is an adagio which, like Samuel Barber's famous one, is drawn from a string quartet. But that's where the similarity ends, as this seven-minute essay eerily evokes the flavor of those movie scores for classic Eastern European horror tales. The solo violin works well, and it's nice to see Mr. T. avoiding the choice of the Theremin here.

He's quite aware of today's musical roots and more or less dedicates his Suite for Prepared Piano to the memory of John Cage, who, he reminds us, invented the prepared piano out of necessity, like most inventions.* The piece is modeled after the baroque dance suite, except that it sounds more like a gamelan than a keyboard instrument, especially in this composer's hands. With John Root he opens the CD with a wild four-hand miniature. He fancifully describes it this way: "In the manner of a crazed house guest, this dance of hobgoblins starts off by stumbling into the room, slaps us silly, and then goes away." We observe that elsewhere he has a way of describing his own music far better than we could ever hope to.

Finally, his Laudatum Domine shows a good command of liturgical music. If not ground-breaking, it makes a laudatory attempt to reach the Heavens; at the same time, it's well-shaped and respectful of the Latin text. The composition was premiered on Corpus Christi Day in 1998 at (we assume) the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York, with that church's choir, soprano Julie Morgan, alto Karen Fodor and organist Ken Cowen.

Other performers on the disc are: the exceptional flutist Hugh Williams; violinist Sebu Sirinium with Ramin Heydarbeygi and the Barhead Chamber Orchestra in Nightvision: clarinetist Tom Piercy, cellist Jane Lawson and pianist Judith Olson with the Goliard Chorale and PS 122 Children's Chorale in Kaleidostrophe; and The Next Stage Speaking Chorus in Don't Ride Off.

* John Cage is said to have fashioned the idea when he found that the pit was too small to accommodate a percussion ensemble he was asked to write for in 1940."