Varese et al. / Percussion Music / New Jersey Percussion Ensemble

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Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

WHITE HOT stampers on side one of this CRAZY FUN 20th Century Percussion Music album, featuring classical works which rely almost exclusively on percussion (piano and voice also make appearances). My favorite piece here may be Ionisation, which uses real sirens (the Old School ones cranked by hand) as part of Varese’s uniquely specialized instrumental array.

But the main reason audiophiles will love this album is not the music, but the SOUND. Ionisation has amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality — it’s hard to imagine a recording that allows your speakers to disappear more completely than this one. And the bottom end is BIG and powerful, probably the main reason the album has been on the TAS Super Disc for decades. If you’ve got full range speakers with big woofers and like to play your music loud, this record will give your system quite a workout.

With the invention of new instruments and increased cross-cultural exchange in the 20th century, composers’ interest in writing for percussion exploded, creating a uniquely modern genre that embraced both the future and the ancient past. The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble was founded in 1968 to perform this new literature, here performing works by Varèse, Cowell, and others.

It also makes a superb test disc. Subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this. The instrumental palette is large and colorful, giving the critical listener plenty to work with.

And this copy is perfect for testing because is is nearly FLAWLESS in its sound on side one. No other copy could touch it. Many copies are not especially transparent, spacious or three-dimensional, and lack extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum.

The SPEED of the percussion is also critical to its accurate reproduction. No two pieces of electronics will get this record to sound the same, and some will fail miserably. If vintage tube gear is your idea of good sound, this record may help you to better understand where its shortcomings lie.

We also have a wonderful record performed by Mehta and the L.A. Phil of percussion music. I can’t say which one is better. This one probably has a been more reverb, and that one is probably a bit drier. Which one you prefer may be a matter of taste. This one has a lot more variety and is considerably cheaper as well.

Side One

A+++, and really JUMPING out of the speakers! Clear and spacious like no other! So much layered depth, so much space and so easy to hear into it all. Most copies are dark and too reverberant. This one was by far the best we played. The sound works on this side one like nothing else we played.

Side Two

A++, Super Hot. It’s not quite as clear, and the top could use more extension (which you will notice if you go back to side one). Spacious, transparent, speedy, and tonally correct for the most part. The third track has the best sound, the second track the worst.

Quiet vinyl for Nonesuch too!

Ionisation

Ionisation (1929–1931) is a musical composition by Edgard Varèse written for thirteen percussionists, the first concert hall composition for percussion ensemble alone. The premiere was at Steinway Hall, on March 6, 1933, conducted by Nicolas Slonimsky, to whom the piece was later dedicated. One critic described the performance as “a sock in the jaw.”
The instrumentation is the following:

3 bass drums (medium, large, very large), 2 tenor drums, 2 snare drums, tarole (a kind of piccolo snare drum), 2 bongos, tambourine, field drum, crash cymbal, suspended cymbals, 3 tam-tams, gong, 2 anvils, 2 triangles, sleigh bells, cowbell, chimes, glockenspiel, piano, 3 temple blocks, claves, maracas, castanets, whip, güiro, high & low sirens, and a lion’s roar.

[Ionisation] is built on a most sensitive handling and contrast of different kinds of percussive sounds. There are those indefinite in pitch, like the bass drum, snare drum, wood blocks, and cymbals; those of relatively definite musical pitch, such as the piano and chimes; those of continually moving pitch, like the sirens and ‘lion’s roar.’

It is an example of ‘spatial construction,’ building up to a great complexity of interlocking ‘planes’ of rhythm and timbre, and then relaxing the tension with the slowing of rhythm, the entrance of the chimes, and the enlargement of the ‘silences’ between sounds. There are suggestions of the characteristic sounds of modern city life. 

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Varese – Ionisation
Colgrass – Fantasy: Variations

Side Two

Cowell – Ostinato Pianissimo
Saperstein – Antiphonies for Percussion
Oak – Amorphosis

Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse

Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse (December 22, 1883 – November 6, 1965) was an innovative French-born composer who spent the greater part of his career in the United States.

Varèse’s music emphasizes timbre and rhythm. He was the inventor of the term “organized sound”, a phrase meaning that certain timbres and rhythms can be grouped together, sublimating into a whole new definition of music. Although his complete surviving works only last about three hours, he has been recognised as an influence by several major composers of the late 20th century. His use of new instruments and electronic resources led to his being known as the “Father of Electronic Music” while Henry Miller described him as “The stratospheric Colossus of Sound”.

Varèse’s emphasis on timbre, rhythm, and new technologies inspired a generation of musicians who came of age during the 1960s and 1970s. One of Varèse’s biggest fans was the American guitarist and composer Frank Zappa, who, upon hearing a copy of The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Vol. 1, which included Intégrales, Density 21.5, Ionisation, and Octandre, became obsessed with the composer’s music.

On his 15th birthday, December 21, 1955, Zappa’s mother, Rosemarie, allowed him a call to Varèse as a present. At the time Varèse was in Brussels, Belgium, so Zappa spoke to Varèse’s wife Louise instead. Eventually Zappa and Varèse spoke on the phone, and they discussed the possibility of meeting each other. Although this meeting never took place, Zappa did receive a letter from Varèse.

Varèse’s spirit of experimentation with which he redefined the bounds of what was possible in music lived on in Zappa’s long and prolific career. Zappa’s final project was The Rage and the Fury, a recording of the works of Varèse. In the liner notes of his early albums, he quoted the ICG manifesto, “The present day composer refuses to die.”

In 1981, Zappa produced and hosted “A Tribute to Edgard Varèse” at the Palladium in New York City, an event at which Louise was an honored guest.

FURTHER READING

Demo Discs for Bass (48)

Demo Discs for Dynamics (49)

Demo Discs for Energy (42)

Demo Discs for Recordings that Are Doing It All (89)

Demo Discs for Size and Space – Orchestral (10)

Demo Discs for Size and Space – Pop, Rock, Jazz, etc. (38)

Demo Discs for Tubey Magic (73)

TAS Super Disc List (94)

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