(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

CD review - Lawrence Ball, Method Music (2012)

Experimental explorations build on Pete Townhend's Method

Pete Townshend's Lifehouse project became the Who's Smile. Like Brian Wilson's unreleased masterpiece, it never quite came together. Some songs, like Baba O'Riley, were salvaged and released as Who's Next, but the full scope of Townshend's vision was never realized. One of his key ideas was the "Method", a way of creating music based on users' personal data.

In 2007, Townshend worked with composer Lawrence Ball to explore a practical application of these ideas. Ball had already developed his own ideas around "Harmonic Maths". The two collaborated with programmer Dave Snowdon to create an experimental web site that would open this work up to the internet at large, creating personalized musical portraits that were based on user input.

Method Music captures proof of concept work that Ball did in preparation for the Method web site. The first disc, Imaginary Sitters, presents a set of the kind of portraits they hoped to produce from the Method web site. The second disc, Imaginary Galaxies, expands on the sounds to develop more depth and complexity. It's very interesting how Method Music seems to distill one of Townshend's musical obsessions, transcending his rock roots.

All of this presents Method Music in a cold, very left brain light. Like most experimental music, the story behind the approach casts a heavy shadow across the work. But the music itself is interesting beyond that. Ball's minimalist approach may start with Phillip Glass style repetition and arpeggiation, but the tunes take on a programmatic feel.

Listen to Sitter 17. It begins with a gamalon sound, percussive and insistent. The sonic layering is regular but slightly chaotic, as it offers a multitude of details to focus on. When the more fluid and delicate sounds come to dominate in the middle, it creates peaceful space. But that space mutates back into a thicker sound. Taken as a whole, Sitter 17 feels like an underwater journey, starting in the rougher shallows, but touring around observing a host of wonder.

The galaxy tracks are much longer explorations, 20+ minutes each compared to the 5 minute portraits. Having that much space work with, Ball seems more content to take a leisurely pace and let the tunes unfold more slowly. Sonic elements swell and ebb over time in ambient waves and the rhythms are less harried. The new age feel of these songs is well suited for meditation and focus.

If you enjoy modern minimalism and experimental music, Method Music has a lot to offer. The Pete Townshend connection is intriguing, too.

Method Music is out January 31 on Navona Records.

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