Time to Burn

Fanfare Review 1

SHATIN Glyph.1 Time to Burn. 2 Grito del Corazón. 3 Sic Transit. 4 Hoshech Al P’ney HaTehom. 5 Elijah’s Chariot6 • 1James Dunham (va); 1Margaret Kampmeier (pn); 2Aaron Hill (ob); 2, 4I-Jen Fang, 2Mike Schutz (perc); 3F. Gerard Errante, 3D. Gause (cl); 1, 6Cassatt Str Qrt • INNOVA 845 (75:08)

Over the course of a mere 75 minutes, this disc introduces the listener to the sheer depth and variety of Judith Shatin’s music. The above interview speaks much about interdisciplinary modes of inspiration and the use of either obscure instruments (shofar) or technology (electronics, CADI). It is interesting to note that the first piece, Glyph (1984, for solo viola, string quartet, and piano), begins in rather welcoming fashion. This movement is marked “Luminous” (the others are “Flickering,” “Ecstatic,” and “Incandescent”). The playing here by soloist James Dunham is stunning: resonant and vital. The first movement invokes large open spaces (of time, possibly, as well as space); the more spiky “Flickering” offers excellent contrast and is superbly performed, especially in the virtuosity of the speedy pizzicatos. The ecstasy of the third movement is quite reverent in nature; the virtuosity of the beautifully, skillfully written finale is most satisfying.

The piece from which the disc takes its name, Time to Burn (2006), is far more overtly Modernist. Scored for oboe and two percussionists, it is a visceral reaction to world events, including holocausts and racism. The title refers back to the burnings of witches. The oboe part presents huge challenges (including multiphonics), magnificently overcome here by Aaron Hill, while the percussion element provides a terrifically exciting sense of momentum.

The Goya-inspired Grito del Corazón (2001) for two clarinets and electronics is far more than atmospherics. Again, there is a clear narrative thread that moves us through the piece’s five-minute duration. Sic Transit (2011) is the piece for percussionist and CADI (it is worth searching out the video mentioned in the interview above, also, just to see how it all comes together). Here, I-Jen Fang is the intrepid percussionist. As a critic who sometimes feels he has been exposed to too much percussion-only music in his time (and who has tended to relegate these pieces and discs to a space of interest only really open to percussionists), it is quite something to say that this piece grips throughout. The 1990 piece Hoshech Al P’ney HaTehom (1990, “Darkness upon the face of the deep”), for electronics, musically depicts the birth of a world. As Shatin points out above, it is not quite Wagnerian in that there are depictions also of lightning; but the link seems to remain, for this listener at least.

The ancient sounds of the shofar make the final piece, the 20-minute Elijah’s Chariot of 1995, a most stimulating experience. The sudden juxtaposition of the shofar’s primal sound and that of string quartet (which, some would claim, is the very embodiment of civilization itself) is marked. This is the longest piece on the disc and demonstrates clearly how Shatin’s feel for narrative can sustain longer timescales. The performance is magnificent, exuding confidence at every turn.

Colin Clarke
This article originally appeared in Issue 37:6 (July/Aug 2014) of Fanfare Magazine.

Fanfare Review 2

Judith Shatin is a true sound artist. She applies sound to the airwaves in the same way a painter applies colors to canvas. She is not trying for melodies that the listener will walk away singing, but she uses melodic material for dramatic effect. The holder of advanced degrees from Juilliard and Princeton, she is professor of music at the University of Virginia where she founded and now directs the Virginia Center for Computer Music. Glyph is a four-movement study in light and shadow with the emphasis on various qualities of light and reflection. Light is represented by close harmonies between the solo viola and the members of the string quartet. There is some correspondence with Debussy and Impressionist music, but its movement is constantly surging forward into the diverse rhythms of the late 20th century. “Luminous” is lyrical, but “Flickering” is spicy and hard to pin down. Her music reminds me of the Norse legendary character Loki. “Ecstatic” brings its own atmosphere along for the memorable ride that culminates in the driving force of “Incandescent.”

Written in 2006, Time to Burn speaks of holocausts, not just the one in Germany, but more recent ones that no one has succeeded in stopping. Shatin likens the ethnic and religious hatred of our own time to the Inquisition and the burning of witches. Her piece for oboe and percussion gives a moving description of 21st-century religious persecutions. Grito del Corazón (Cry of the Heart) is a 2001 piece inspired by Goya’s most disturbing paintings. His “black” paintings are fearsome works he created in old age to exhibit the inhumanity of war. Shatin describes their dark themes with intense music for two clarinets and intriguing electronic sounds.
The score of Sic Transit calls for a single percussionist and a Computer Assisted Drumming Instrument that reflects the interaction of time and human beings. To the listener, the sounds seem to occur surrounded by spaces of varying sizes that produce constantly changing rhythms. This is quite a fascinating piece that seems different at each hearing. In Hoshech Al P’ney HaTehom (Darkness upon the Face of the Deep) Shatin provides a musical creation myth as she describes the formation of the world out of chaos and infinite darkness. Sounds and matter coalesce. Tones strengthen and ooze out of the abyss. There is lightning, and eventually, life. Elijah’s Chariot is perhaps the easiest of Shatin’s works for a neophyte to grasp at first hearing because it tells a story. For this work she uses the sound of the ancient ram’s horn, the shofar, usually heard on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. She processes the notes of the horn electronically in order to obtain the bright and rousing sounds that describe the prophet being swept up into the heavens in a glowing chariot drawn by fiery steeds. To finish the story, she adds the melody of a familiar folksong, Eliahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) in which the people invite him to return with the Messiah. When you listen to her piece, you feel as though you too are being swept up to Heaven by strong winds. Shatin’s music is powerful and most distinctive. As performed here and recorded in Innova’s clear sound, it is also most inviting. I think anyone who is interested in the creation of new music should sample her offerings.

Maria Nockin
This article originally appeared in Issue 37:6 (July/Aug 2014) of Fanfare Magazine.

“There is something stable, solid, in the music of American composers. In contrast to the thousand-year European tradition, they are mere babies; but that makes no difference: even a little over 100 years are enough, it would seem, to build a corpus that has character and is convincing. Not that there is a distinct essence of American musicality that one can define, quantify and classify stylistically. Nevertheless, it has something – a certain indefinable confidence. The works of the composer Judith Shatin always radiate such confidence, as it does in her new CD, to be officially released at the end of April, and is therefore now only distributed as a promo on the Net.

The album Time to Burn is about light and fire, and not necessarily about their positive aspects – especially not in the work after which the CD is named (from 2006) for oboe (Aaron Hill) and percussionists (I-Jen Fang and Mike Schutz). This is a work Shatin composed, she says, in response to the holocausts that continue to plague the world, and widespread acts of violence that remind us of dark times such as the burning of witches and the Inquisition. It so happens that this work is one of the less interesting on the CD: it is nervous, bright and sharp, and although it may capture well the mood of catastrophe that its name suggests, it does not elicit a desire to listen to it.

Another work that has a certain strangeness is Elijah’s Chariot, [based on the story of Elijah] who as is well known, rose to the Heavens in fire and smoke. Here Shatin draws upon a pseudo-folkishness, which takes her to the edge of the precipice of orientalism. The music begins with an expressive cello, as it were ‘Jewish,’ followed by the emergence of human voices with a mideastern effect, and after after which comes a theme in the same spirit, a kind of galloping Hora that is cut short by a bleating shofar electronically transformed, which in turn breaks into a quiet section – and as if that were not enough, the melody Eliahu HaNavi emerges after that. This search for the different and the ‘other,’ arouses a sense of forgiveness, one that only someone who has a ‘first-person perspective’ – such as Israelis – can feel towards those with good intentions who observe the culture from outside.

But these works do not diminish the value of the wonderful music on this CD, and above all the opening work, Glyph (from 1984), which means a kind of carving.This work consists of beautiful, sweeping, imaginative music in four movements titled Luminous, Flickering, Ecstatic and Incandescent. The delicate piano performance of Margaret Kampmeier; James Dunham, with his viola, which is all song and virtuosity without showing off, and the French (sic) Cassatt Quartet, which can proudly stand beside the famed Kronos Quartet that commissioned Elijah’s Chariot and premiered it. This tonal, romantic music shows how little style is the measure of good music, and how one can write romantic music and be at the same time contemporary. True, this is not likely, but it is nevertheless possible – and rare as it may be, here the possible comes into being.

Grito del Corazón (The Cry of the Heart) from 2001, for 2 clarinets and electronics, inspired by the Black Paintings of Francisco de Goya; Sic Transit, premiered in 2011, for percussionist and six robotic arms – whose repetitive rhythm moves from fulfillment of expectation to surprises, and explores our relation to time; and Hosech Al P’ney HaTehom for electronics, from 1990 – they too are beautiful works that reveal Shatin’s originality and her ability to say in sound something uniquely personal. Hosech Al P’ney HaTehom shows this: electronic music in which the noise of chaos moves and breaks as its sounds collide; and then a lightening flash triggers a wild storm, eruptions of lava, from which emerges a sound of definite pitch – and then stability.

Judith Shatin, born in 1949, studied at Juilliard and Princeton, among other schools. She is a professor at the University of Virginia and founder and head of the Center for Computer Music there. According to her, the social aspects of music, the sounds of the world, as well as literature and visual art, find their place in her work. In an interview on the American Music site, she explains that she is looking for new sounds – “I live my life with my musical antennas up,” as she says, but that all her works have a direct and deep connection with music of the past: “sometimes I have the feeling that the past is the present,” she says.”

–Ha’Aretz (Noam ben Ze’ev, Trans. Michael Kubovy)

The title track “Time to Burn” is an engaging work for oboe and two percussionists. Extended techniques make the oboe sound almost like an electronic instrument in places. The interplay between the three instruments, and the imaginative way in which they’re used gives the music a sense of energy and even urgency. –WTJU Classical Comments (Ralph Graves)

Terapija Netmjuzik Review

Judith Shatin is a great role model and inspiration for Mary Kathleen Ernst, who you have had the chance to meet through the recently released album “Keeping Time,” and therefore, besides music and a general creative reach, it is very interesting to observe how the teacher is more nimble than her student, although they spent some time together in Juilliard School. Also, after many years, they jointly made a much acclaimed album “Tower of the Eight Winds” (2010), and renewed cooperation on the aforementioned album in which Kathleen remade several of Shatin’s compositions.

Just to refresh our memories and renew our knowledge: Mary Kathleen is a pianist. Judith is a very versatile artist with a rich discography behind her, and she has covered many musical genres – classical and abstract, even experimental in the domain of modern classical music, as evidenced by her numerous awards. Moreover, from the years 1989 to 1993 she was the President of the Association of American Women Composers. The scope of her genre is very wide: using computer electronic and acoustic music, constantly cooperating and making various collaborations with various soloists and ensembles, with a main focus on instrumental performances.

Here, on her third album for Innova Recording, through almost 80 minutes of music, she presents a trans-genre scenario of acoustic and electronic music, dividing compositions into separate sessions of acoustics and electronics, with just a few of them arranged as a combination of both expressions. She seems very peaceful and calm, focusing on improvisation of accompanying musicians (solo viola, string quartet, piano, percussion, drums, oboe, clarinet …) with her own inspirations of electronic enterprises, using the imagination of real instruments produced by computer programs. In other words, why bother playing some conventional instruments when they can be adapted to chords and notations in a binary system?

This whole collection of different things which alludes to “live” music undisputedly associated with electro-acoustical achievements from half a century ago (or even longer) is impregnated with exhibitions in which there is no virtuous legalities of the “classics”: it focuses on melody, rhythm and harmony. We are talking about these factors in the traditional sense, but in her music, all of this exists on a completely different level – where a skilful skill of improvisation comes to its full expression. The first four mutually interrelated themes: Glyph – I. Luminous, Glyph – II. Flickering, Glyph – III. Ecstatic, and Glyph – IV. Incandescent, played by violist James Durham, pianist Margaret Kampmeier and the Cassat String Quartet, are differently painted pieces with constant changes of stylish performances in clean formats, and then, in the main one called “Time to Burn” a picturesque sifting and screening of I-Jen Fang percussion follows in [extended techniques] of the oboist Aaron Hill, also continuing in the dark “Grito del Corazon” inspired by Goya’s “Black Paintings,” where an electronic drone background has been used as well.

In “Sic Transit,” she plays again with I-Jen Fang percussion, including this time computer-controlled instruments, while strangely named “Hoshech al p’ney HaTeh” is a real electronic mini-symphony with psycho-drone attributes about the birth of the world, the creation of a relationship between dark and light, and the exit out of chaos and the beginning of life. The last piece – “Elijah’s Chariot”- screams for a full 20 minutes with combinations of the amplified Cassatt String Quartet and electronic processors, suggestive of fiery combustions of the mythical fiery chariots of Elijah and thundering rides on the heavens.

Just saying that the whole material affects us as simply steady and balanced would be too little. Here we have Judith presenting herself, again, as a versatile artist who manages to connect alongside both traditions and conventions with current underground stylizations of electronics, absorbing essences and important items from both sound worlds. She is clearly focused on themes and plots, she allows games and improvisations, and she creates chaos and unravels it in very calm layers of elevations, but then again swirls all of them with excitement and ecstasy.

She is playing within her own control and permits a lot to an enjoyable series of different stylistic flourishes, which only sometimes and periodically repeat.

Her horizons and spectrums are very rich and impressive, and after you finish listening to the last, a very interesting and dramatic theme of “Elijah chariot” (with shorter “dumb” vocal arias!), the whole impression irresistibly compels you to press the replay key.
–Trans Mirela Savic-Fleming

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