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Roger Reynolds - Process and Passion (All Music Guide)::

Passion and Process - Roger ReynoldsRoger Reynolds has been going about his art for many decades. By now he is one of the premiere living composers in the United States today. Through recordings he is especially known for chamber orchestra and vocal works. Not much of his more intimate chamber music has become widely available.

The gap has been nicely bridged in part lately by the three-work program on the CD Passion and Process (Pogus 21032-2). The three works are "Kokora" (1992) for violin, "Focus a beam, emptied of thinking, outward. . . " (1989) for cello, and "Process and Passion" (2002) for violin and cello. Performing the demanding parts are Mark Menzies, violin, and Hugh Livingston, cello.

There are two disks in the set. The first comprises the performances in standard two-channel sound; the second disk involves a contrasting mix into six channels, which are then binaurally converted so that the listener can hear a simulated six-way presentation (though this latter mix can be experienced properly only through headphones).

This is chamber music in the fully modern zone: wide intervalic leaps, complex abstracted rhythmic landscapes, widely expanded tonality or atonality, and a virtuoso set of string articulations. Maestros Menzies and Livingston do an admirable, rather extraordinary job with their parts. This is Roger Reynolds on the turf you would expect him to occupy. He does so quite successfully with three scores that take close listenings to appreciate but come through with memorable high modernist string music in an intimate setting.

I appreciate the binaural versions but am not one to listen for any length of time with headphones (unless I am walking to music), so the expanded sound staging was slightly lost on me in my restless run-through of that disk.

The music is demanding but ultimately very satisfying. It is in every way a welcome addition to the Reynolds discography and will only further enhance his already considerable reputation. Anyone in touch with the modernist style will no doubt find in these performances a kind of manna for their modern-hungry ears. - Grego Applegate Edwards

This album presents three interrelated works (if only in terms of instrumentation). “Kokoro" (29 minutes) is for solo violin. Interpreted by Mark Menzies, it is a highly delicate, graceful piece. The bow dances over the strings, at times barely touching them, at others attacking the bridge with determination. Menzies displays a wide range of extended techniques in the vibrant, elemental manner more common to free improvisers (as opposed to the more formalist use of such techniques in notated music). The 12 movements of the work are articulated in a succession of short tableaux, similar to a solo choreography. “Focus a Beam, Emptied of Thinking, Outward..." (14 minutes) is for solo cello and features Hugh Livingston. Compared to the gracile first piece, this one is rather low key, serving more like an extended prelude to the 23-minute “Process and Passion," this one a duet between the two aforementioned musicians. The magnum opus of the album — and one of Roger Reynolds' better works — it features his taste for movement, complex intertwining, understated melodicism and theatrics. The mood swings between loving serenade and heated argument, following an abstract yet surprisingly logical plot. Computer-processed violin and cello lines occasionally surface, scrambling the dialogue in productive ways. The same three works are featured twice. On Disc 1, one finds the “regular" stereophonic mixes for loudspeakers. On Disc 2 are binaural mixes requiring headphones. The binaural presentation adds a lot of depth, reproducing the effect of a multi-channel spatialization. This technique is usually used by composers of electroacoustic music. Relying on it for works that are purely acoustic in nature, to a large extent, is something new and — one must admit — quite conclusive. It dramatically enhances the impression of movement in “Kokoro," and fully integrates the first incursions from the computer in “Process and Passion." — François Couture

Process and Passion presents two versions each of three compositions on two discs – one in conventional stereo, and the other using binaural encoding to produce sound spatialization, and requiring headphones. Two of the pieces have been recorded previously – "Kokoro" for solo violin, and "Focus a beam, emptied of thinking, outward…" for solo cello. These were written for Irvine Arditti and Rohan de Saram of the Arditti Quartet, and can be found on the Coconino 2-disc Reynolds set on Montaigne. The title track is a violin and cello duet that builds on material from the earlier solo works. According to Reynolds, this takes the "assertive and unpredictable" nature of "Kokoro" (based on Arditti’s character) and the more "meditative" nature of "Focus" (de Saram's) and pits them against one another, until they are ultimately reconciled. The violin, then, is passion, the voice of The Furies, and the cello process, the voice of Reason. Reynolds sees this as representing concepts from Greek tragedy, the development of an understanding of justice capable of overcoming endless cycles of violence and retribution, an idea he has addressed in his recent yet-to-be-recorded opera "The Red Act Project". The relevance in today’s world seems self-evident. The performers are Mark Menzies on violin and Hugh Livingston on cello, joined on the title track by computer, programmed by Reynolds. Menzies and Livingston studied with the composer at the University of California – San Diego (UCSD), and are masters of their respective instruments. They clearly spent more time with the compositions than Arditti and de Saram before recording, as the new recordings are more decisive than the originals. As it turns out, Reynolds asked Menzies and Livingston to edit the scores, and they are now credited as co-composers (I wonder if Brian Ferneyhough has ever considered this..?) The binaural technique is quite impressive (if it catches on, people might one day not comprehend the idea that music was ever anything BUT spatially encoded), and further proof that Reynolds, now into his 70s, is still interested in applying cutting edge technology to his music. The disc includes 12 pages of notes with plenty of valuable information for musicians and astute listeners. These are works that reward multiple encounters – works for and by virtuosos. Recordings by Roger Reynolds are far too scarce, and this is a welcome addition to his small but high-quality oeuvre. We eagerly await the release of his unrecorded orchestral works, not to mention "The Red Act Project".—RH (Paris Transatlantic Magazine)
  Also reviewed on Evolver (In German)
Past Feature Article: If, Bwana / Al Margolis featured in UK's Wire Magazine
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