Consumer Guide

An awful lot of gnarled, dissonant music is dear to me, but if music has to be ugly to be authentically 20th-century, then I for one will wave goodbye to the 1900s with unmixed relief. So I am unapologetic about giving "Pick Hit" to the prettiest major work in many years, Lentz's Apologetica, and it shares the stage with a joyously raucous percussion fest by coincidence, not as compensation. An interesting historical tendency is the return of choral music, apparent in Lentz, Leach, and Arvo Pärt's Kanon Pokajanen on ECM—the last not reviewed below because it impressed me only with its numbing austerity. For passion and invention both, Lentz towers above the far better-known Pärt.

CHARLES AMIRKHANIAN: Walking Tune (Starkland) The noises in Amirkhanian's sound poems are raw and brittle, yet lovingly dwelt upon. In "Walking Tune," a lonely violin enters over the gritty crunch of gravel underfoot, and even the melodies of the crickets seem to anticipate the gorgeous, wordless soprano voice that eventually floats in. That's a portrait of weirdo composer Percy Grainger, andAmirkhanian is the master (sole practitioner?) of representational noise collage. "Vers Les Anges," a portrait of Nicolas Slonimsky in L.A., melds cat meows and cuckoo clocks, while the Jungian "Gold and Spirit" looks back to Amirkhanian's humorous text works with football chants made of famous artists' names: "Go Van Gogh!" But every piece is complex and sinuous, harder to sum up than this blurb suggests. A

DENNIS BATHORY-KITSZ: Detritus of Mating (Malted Media) Those addicted to the new-music radio show and Web site Bathory-Kitsz cohosts (at wgdr/ kalvos/ cf2ulnone--the most extensive on the Web) will find interest in his sound sculpture, a sample of which is caught here. Glistening tones ring in the air, bits of deconstructed voices float by, a dark bass pulse starts up that's more felt than heard, in large-scale periodic cycles that would replicate the opening if allowed to continue for some 27 years. You don't get a distinct idea of his creative personality from this first disc, but it's enjoyable how the exquisite rings continually modulate even when nothing seems to be happening. B

WENDY MAE CHAMBERS: 122 (New World) Varese wrote Ionisation, John Becker wrote The Abongo, Steve Reich wrote Drumming, and now Chambers has written 122, which may surpass them all. Her hour-long percussion extravaganza, based on a tarot reading and the myths of New Orleans voodoo, pounds primitively enough to dance to, yet the big drums frequently give way to subtle glockenspiels, chimes, sirens, and even rainsticks used in nimble rhythms and an amazing variety of textures. Still think the fortysomething generation hasn't produced any universally lovable works? Try this. A

DIAMANDA GALAS: Malediction and Prayer (Asphodel) Stripped down to the conventional context of voice and piano--or rather, to her 40 different voices and expert fingers--Diamanda seems even more astounding. Recorded live on tour (though excellently), the first booming chords of "Iron Lady"remind you that her piano playing is capable of power, delicacy, bluesiness, and dexterity, even if its range is dwarfed by that of her voice. Singing chilling lyrics in Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, and English, she can sound like a gutsy-throated 400-pound woman on death row,a shrieking harpy, a jaded French dissolute, and anything in between, often switching in mid-phrase. Here's the perfect Diamanda disc for neophytes because the pieces are simple, but that doesn't mean her darkness is mitigated. A MINUS

DANIEL GOODE: Tunnel-Funnel (Tzadik) Goode's continuous, 34-minute orchestral labyrinth tempts you to think of '80s postminimalism as a historical genre with its own classics, for it is certainly one of them. Spiraling out of a sadly descending harmonic progression, the piece can dissolve into lethargy at times, but momentum isn't the point; "Tunnel-Funnel" is thoughtfully caught between a Reichian concern forprocess and a Feldmanesque love of floating sonority. The gentle opening doesn't brace you for the formal complexity that follows, and the work begs for repeated hearings as few postminimal works do, its rhythmic illusions challenging your perception. Completing the disc, "Fiddle Studies" is an engaging 1981 minimalist work. A

TOM HAMILTON: Sebastian's Shadow (Monroe Street) Hamilton's hourlong synthesizer essay does not--repeat, does not sound like J. S. Bach on acid, but it does slow down the old master's Fantasia andFugue BWV 542 to CD-length and diffract its harmonies through riffling postminimalist blips and beeps. As Hamilton is an installation composer, the disc is virtually ambient; the processes change, but the basic pleasant, kaleidoscopic effect remains the same from start to finish, a background reminder that, as Eliot quoted Emerson saying, "The lengthened shadow of a man/is history..." B

ELODIE LAUTEN: Inscapes from Exile (New Tone) Quintessential New Yorker Lauten spent a year or two in godforsaken Albuquerque and survived by weaving its ancient Anasazi sites and UFO sightings into this collection of well-titled works ("Gusty Winds May Exist," for example, and "Barbie's Fugue State"). If her earlier Tronik Involutions on O.O. was mellow and smoothly postminimalist, this disc is screwed up to a higher energy level, sometimes bubbling over into contrapuntal randomness in an overflow of passion--or pain? "Changing Gravity" lifts you with its burbling crescendos, "Ordinary Spatial Distance" offers Lauten's familiar intent piano style, and in "At the Sundown" she sings with a huskiness as invitingly warm as any vocalist around. A

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