Friday, October 16, 2009

WML 12: Contemporary Composers Vol. 1

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Welcome to the Twelfth Edition of Weekend Music Links. We've streamlined these posts because they were getting a leeeetle bit too long. So we moved some of the other portions of these weekly posts to our Facebook Page, which will be updated according to the following schedule:

Monday - Quote of the Week
Tuesday - Found Instrument of the Week
Wednesday - Upcoming Music Events

If you would like to be featured in our Local Spotlight (which we will be getting back to momentarily) or have some upcoming gigs you'd like to promote, feel free to contact Ford Seeuws or Justin Weathermon on Facebook, and we'll be happy to feature you.

This week we feature two contemporary composers who have been influential in recent years.

Clint Mansell

Chances are, you know Mansell's work even if the name doesn't ring a bell. The piece that put him on the mainstream map had been written for a string quartet that was featured in the soundtrack of the film Requiem for a Dream, but it wasn't until it had been re-orchestrated by another group of composers for the second half of The Two Towers trailer under the name "Requiem for a Tower" that everyone took notice. At that point the piece became the heir apparent to Karl Orff's famous O Fortuna as the go-to cue for trailers and movies that want to capture "epic" without all the hard work of composing something new.

Proof that Requiem for a Tower makes anything epic:

But Mansell hasn't let his success with Requiem straitjacket his compositional creativity. While his piece Dead Reckoning from the soundtrack for Smoking Aces does share more than a few fingerprints with Requiem, his soundtrack for the new film Moon is right on the mark.

The Kronos Quartet has had a pretty close relationship with Mansell for quite some time, performing the soundtrack for Requiem for a Dream, and here they perform pieces from his soundtrack for The Fountain live at a concert in Madrid:

Steve Reich

Steve Reich is one of the most influential composers who gets lumped into the "minimalist" category. Reich pioneered the art of "phasing," which requires musicians to play an identical melody, but at different tempos, so while the performers sound like they are playing something identical at first, one begins to sound a bit off-tempo, then as if it were an echo and finally comes back into unison at some point.

The effect phasing creates is unique, and while it sounds simplistic, it is not easy. You pretty much have to be a human metronome to be able to play Reich's phasing works accurately. One such example is Peter Aidu performing his one-man rendition of Reich's Piano Phase. This guy's got rhythm:

Glenn Kotche, drummer for Wilco, uses one of Steve Reich's pieces, Clapping Music, as a warm-up, which he demonstrates in the following promo from Modern Drummer's 2006 Festival.

For more information on Reich and his music, check out this interview from American Public Media, or take a look at this excerpt from a documentary about Reich, which tells the story behind Riech's discovery (invention?) of phasing as an art form.