Other Music 10-9-11: Paul Bailey Ensemble

We had a great interview with Paul Bailey of the Paul Bailey Ensemble on last night's Other Music show, and I wanted to include a review of their music along with this week's podcast.

That podcast is, by the way, right here.

Before I begin, a call for submissions: please feel free to get in touch with me and submit music.  I review music and books on this site, I play interesting music on the Other Music show, and I'm about to start doing more reviews that will appear on Killed in Cars.  If you email neonren at hotmail dotcom, I'll get my address to you, and I'd love to hear interesting new music.  Paul Bailey submitted his music to the radio show, which is the first that we'd heard of his work, and we're happy to promote and expose it to a wider audience.  I'm a composer/musician myself as well as a voracious music fanatic, and I get a lot of enjoyment out of helping musicians and audiences find one another.

Onto the Paul Bailey Ensemble: simply put, I adore this music.  I suppose the closest comparison to the PBE sound is some of Michael Nyman's work, particularly his scores for Peter Greenaway films and his string quartets.  I've been a huge fan of that music for a long time, to the degree that I modeled the music I wrote for my own wedding ceremony after that approach.  Essentially, PBE plays a style of "New Music" in which one can expect a harmonic vocabulary often making reference to the music of the Late Renaissance/early Baroque, but played with a variety of modern instruments and set with very clean rhythmic textures, often driving 8th note figures that propel the music with precision.  Vocal pieces also evoke Renaissance music, featuring the polyphonic motet approach with intersecting vocal lines along with some spoken word passages.

I usually hear this style described as living under the "minimalist" umbrella, which makes some sense: Nyman himself is generally credited with applying that term to music, after all.  But this kind of minimalism is frequently very complex, compositionally speaking--it's just that pieces are written with a kind of care that affords great clarity to the music.  The PBE recordings can be very busy, but everything has room to breathe and to be heard through careful orchestration as well as good recording and mixing. As opposed to "minimalist," I prefer to think of this music as "modular" or "cellular," in the sense that the music evolves gradually and can leave room for compositional adjustment of sections in terms of length: harmonic ideas repeat in "cells" or "modules" while melodies organically evolve through variations that unfold with the ease of nature itself.  There is a degree of practical utility to this approach when scoring for film or theatre, as "cells" can be added or removed as needed to match on-screen action.  But aesthetically it can be evocative as well: one can compose the basic sections of a piece, workshop it for a while with an ensemble, and see how long the sections really want to be by letting them "live in the air."  I hear a unique combination of compositional control and freedom in this music.

But I actually like the PBE recordings better than most of the Michael Nyman compositions I've long enjoyed for one simple reason: this music has a much wider emotional/communicative range.  Bailey's compositions can evoke the same atmospheres of high drama as Nyman, where as a listener I can feel almost overwhelmed, a very small voice in a large, complex world.  Nyman's work, though, more or less operates in dark spaces all of the time, with pieces that are mostly ominous in calmer moments and emotionally crushing at their peaks.  In contrast, I think Bailey's music is more emotionally inclusive.  There is fun, play, humor and joy in the music of PBE that can offer redemption, or speak to the happier moments in listeners' lives. That's something that I really crave in modern music, art, and literature.  Art can remain profound and contemplative and still have some fun.  Maybe I'm just a generally happy fellow, but to me the tapestry of life contains just as many highs as lows (hopefully even more highs than lows!), and art speaks to more of my feelings and thoughts when it can traverse the whole range of human experience.

Hear it for yourself.  Bailey kindly makes his music available for free.  Check out his website at http://www.paulbailey.us.  And be sure to read the hilarious graphic libretto for his Life's Too Short piece while you're there, which deftly represents the contrapuntal voices of the work through Peanuts characters.  He's offering lots of stuff free, but I did notice that you can find his work on iTunes and Bandcamp if you're inclined to kick a few dollars back his way for this amazing music.

And if you're craving more new music, Bailey also operates a website featuring free downloads from a variety of new music composers at http://www.alt-classical.com.  I haven't had a chance to dig into the site yet, but it looks like a great resource and a great community where fans and composers can find one another.

On next week's Other Music show, we'll be having an in-studio live performance from Lincoln's weirdo electronica project Bobbie Boob, so keep tuning into Other Music.

I'm working on some more Words on Sounds content, particularly more writing in the Technology and Humanity series, but I need to focus on some KiC reviews in the short term...hang tight, dear readers!

Also: for you Lincoln readers, I'll be playing a show this Thursday as part of Lincoln Calling.  I'm playing guitar with Paper People at the Black Market.  6 PM, all ages, no cover.  I haven't played a gig on guitar in over 10 years.  I'd love to see some Lincoln folks at the show!

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