Formerly known as The Young Composers Collective, Seattle’s Degenerate Art Ensemble continue to amaze with their blending of modern classical music with Asian and experimental influences. From Zorn-style avant-jazz crazyness to Boredoms-esqe noise attacks with a stopover in Stockhausen country, this album is absolutely worth delving into.
This Seattle orchestra, formerly known as The Young Composer's Collective, is sort of like a Kronos Quartet for the Coffee Generation (only with way more players -- ten on this release, to be exact). Which is not to say that they're amped up or anything, but that they have a more "modern" approach to classical musical and traditional sounds. Under their earlier name released a soundtrack to Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS [un-labeled records]; on this one they worked with Scott Colburn, who has also worked with The Climax Golden Twins and The Black Cat Orchestra. So obviously they have a good pedigree.... Their sound is that of an orchestra (albeit a most unconventional one), and they coax some unusual rhythms and sounds from their instruments on this release, the music based on a butoh dance and concept by Haruko Nishimura. I'm not familiar enough with butoh to know how this fares by comparison to other butoh-styled music, but it's certainly engaging enough in its own right. Occasionally unsettling, too -- just as you've been lulled into submission by the low-key "The Woman Awakes," the giant percussion of "The Hunt" will make you literally jump out of your seat. The opening piece "Hibernation" is a perfect example of their sense of dynamics, with the instruments slowly swelling in volume then receding, over time growing louder and more "awake."
The danger and uneasiness of traditional butoh comes through in "The Target," which is almost all wildly unpredictable percussion (percussionist Robert Walker is particularly spectacular all across the disc, actually). I find "Interlude" especially interesting, given its echoes of Tony Conrad in the dissonant intervals and drones that build to a frenzied full band climax before fading away and coming back in a more chromatic fashion. The thundering rhythms in in "Confrontation" are closer to tribal psychosis than anything i normally associate with the orchestra -- maybe i've been listening to the wrong stuff all the time, eh? The crickets (or mimicry of such) at the end are a nice touch...
Their initial assault of sonic violence at the beginning of the final track, "Chase," is worthy of early Neubaten, only in the context of an orchestra as opposed to maniacs playing shopping carts and bandsaws. In fact, the whole tone of the the piece is pretty strident, and much heavier than you'd expect, plus laced with plenty of dissonance for my taste. Drop in unexpected bursts of percussion heaviess and riffs that gradually fade out and slow down in perfect time and you have moments of pure heaviness in a most unexpected context. Recommended, and not just for the classical or butoh enthusiasts, either.
The Degenerate Art Ensemble (formerly Young Composers Collective), led by composer Joshua Kohl, is a Seattle-based ensemble, formed in 1993, that stradles the line between jazz, classical and rock. Their instrumentation includes electronics, violin, sax, clarinet, trumpet, guitar, percussion, bass. It is also a theatre, dance and performance-art group, conceiving and performing multi-media operas.
Rinko (Unit Circle Rekkids, 2001) is the soundtrack to a butoh dance piece by Shohei Nishimura (Kohl's wife). The music here is more mature and sophisticated, exploiting the pauses as well as the counterpoint, calculating the mix of timbres and focusing on the dramatic tension. The ten brief tracks are basically micro-concertos that don't continue.