Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ussachevsky remembered

When he's remembered at all as part of music history, Vladimir Ussachevsky is usually noted as one of the founders of the Columbia Experimental Music Studio in the early 50's (which is thankfully an ongoing project at Columbia, long after his death in 1990). Not as well known are his own works as a composer but that was partially rectified in 1999 by the CRI label when they gathered his works from a bunch of collections to form a CD, Vladimir Ussachevsky: Electronic and Acoustic Works 1957- 1972. Since New World took over the CRI catalog, they've resurrected a number of releases, including this CD, now with the Soviet Constructivism-style cover you see to the left.

As noted in the liner notes to the CD, Ussachevsky started out with the simplest of equipment to produce his extraordinary, ghostly music- a tape machine, microphone, headphones and a recorder. In this relatively primitive (though not for the time) pre-digital environment, he was able to sculpt not only his own creations but also make a musical lab for other composers. True, the French had beaten him to the punch (the INA group) and he was working at the same time of another German studio (WDR, which would soon include Stockhausen) but Ussachevsky brought a distinct slant to the music he created. "Other-worldly" is the term that I usually come up with for this but he also had a fascination for technology-themes (appropriately enough) as heard in "Wireless Fantasy" (from 1960) and for quick, jarring contrasts ("Of Wood and Brass" from 1965) that would later manifest itself in the early electronic experiments of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.

Also of interest from the CD are some non-electronic works he did. The choral piece "The Creation" (1960) is very moving and fluid, standing in stark contrast to his earlier work. Similarly, the mournful, Weil-ish "Miss Breva" (from 1972) shows another side of his work.


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