Consumer Guide

MARY JANE LEACH: Ariadne's Lament (New World) Here's a nice contrast in postminimalism with the Lentz below, both major examples of the new choral style. Leach's works stay closer to minimalism; they are flatter in form and don't stray from the opening tonality. However, within her sometimes conventionally contrapuntal idiom, she wrings all the hair-raising dissonance she can muster from every half-step clash available. Gee, the music seems so well behaved, why is it ringing with acoustic beats? Cream of the crop are two a cappella works by the New York Treble Singers, but "Windjammer" is one of Leach's finer instrumental pieces, and "Tricky Pan" a clever reworking of an early 14th-century chanson by the rhythmically tricky Solage. A MINUS

DANIEL LENTZ: Apologetica (New Albion) The gorgeous harmonies and gelatinously impressionist orchestrations of Lentz's magnum opus will cause modernist sourpusses to write this off as New Age music. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Listen to the elision of words in the first movement, as "despair" in the men's voices blends into "This pair of eyes see" in the women's, and then "eyes see" merges with "My sea is red with our blood" in the men again. Add to that disarming text-setting approach Lentz's unobtrusively odd meters like 7/4 and 5/4 and his use of MIDI keyboards with string orchestra and chorus, and you've got a sumptuous but utterly original work, far stranger than it sounds. The poems, by Lentz and others, do homage to indigenous peoples killed by the Spanish, and the beauty is meant to heal and help mourn as well as soothe. If you can't hear the originality through the caramel surfaces, clean your damn ears out. A PLUS

ANNEA LOCKWOOD, RUTH ANDERSON: Sinopah (XI) The roar of a Hawaiian volcano, the prolonged boom of an under-ocean earthquake, the quick blips of a pulsar in the Vela Supernova--these are the more exotic sounds Lockwood has woven into her tapestry "World Rhythms." What separates her work from musique concrèteis that the attention is drawn, not to the sound construction she's made, but to the universe outside our perceptual framework, no matter how sensuous the results. As you listen, reality overwhelms you. The fact makes her a more important electronic pioneer than she's yet been given credit for. Anderson's I Come Out of Your Sleep is no horror-flick soundtrack, but a meditation piece of slowly whispered phonemes at the threshold of hearing. A

CHRIS NEWMAN: Compassion (content) Along with Kevin Volans, Englishman Newman can boast one of the most refreshingly unfettered imaginations in new music. If you've heard him only in his provocatively satiric mode (e.g., singing his rock song "Clair, Clair has pubic hair"), then you may be delighted yet somehow unsurprised by this equally audacious 63-minute, single-movement work for violin and piano. With tranquil relentlessness,the instruments take turns playing ascending scales, stop for an occasional melody, then hit the same old dissonant chord over and over, like two neurotic friends sharing their obsessions and finishing each other's sentences without really paying attention. In the process, you'll hear a conception of musical time perhaps unlike anything you've heard before. A MINUS

ELIANE RADIGUE: Trilogie de la Mort (XI) One of the 20th century's great fanatics, Radigue spent eight years handcrafting this three-hour, three-disc, Tibetan-inspired, death-transcending elegy for her son, and if you're not a deep listener, all you'll hear is a hum. Overtones of gently pulsing drones are Radigue's themes, but her sweep is symphonic. Booming bass tones test the limits of your loudspeakers, and within them string orchestras and bagpipes seem to play dirges--but everything is analogue electronics. When the music goes from sweet to sad, or from roaring climax to pure quiet in the final half-hour, the change is so imperceptibly gradual that it sweeps you along all the more. You have to slow your day way down just to begin appreciating this, and that's not a bad idea. B PLUS

HOWARD SKEMPTON: Surface Tension (Mode) I was intrigued by this extreme British minimalist back when Michael Nyman wrote about him in the '70s, and it's taken a quarter century for us to get to hear his music. Worth the wait? Sorta; these 24 brief solo and chamber pieces are so logically simple as to be self-evident, and they can hardly help but fulfill their extraordinarily modest ambitions. Accordion meditations (he's an accordionist) and oddities such as a gentle piano-woodblock duet achieve a self-effacing charm, while some of the songs just seem conventional. Call Skempton kind of a British Satie, yet with a wit even drier than Tom Johnson's. B

JACK SMITH: Les Evening Gowns Damnées (Audio ArtKive) You listen to Tony Conrad, Jack Smith, and their friends sit around chirping in falsetto, tapping finger cymbals, and strumming guitars, more to say, "Wow, the '60s were really like that" and "I wonder what they were on," than to get a real aesthetic experience. But Conrad has preserved some intriguing '60s documents here, including his screaming film score for Smith's Flaming Creatures and Smith reading his own self-indulgently psychedelic texts, with ill-recorded accompaniments that hint vaguely at the world of La Monte Young. C

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