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Lost Marbles

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Album Review

This compilation of selected fragments of Alvin Curran's orchestral, choral, solo keyboard, electronic, and installation works created between 1987 and 2003 begins with "Toto Angelica," 89 seconds of sampladelic madness. In complete contrast, "Music Is Not Music" is a slow and exquisite setting of texts by John Cage, recalling both Stravinsky and Satie, after which the computer-controlled ship foghorns of "Maritime Rites — Wasserkorso" come across as rather crude. Curran's involvement with contemporary dance has been major and longstanding; "For MG" was written for the Trisha Brown Dance Company and is scored for piano and tape. It's rather like Rosicrucian period Satie until it's interrupted by what sounds like a lawn mower trying to start up. Similarly potty is the chamber orchestra work "In Hora Mortis," mixing aimlessly chugging ostinati with snatches of tango, circus trombones, and cheesy organ. "Endangered Species" is another wild cocktail of improvised piano, vocal fragments, pop samples, and diverse field recordings, and the pulsing rhythms that open "Pittura Fresca" collapse into a wobbly keyboard patch after barely two minutes, to be followed by a hefty chunk of Mozart's Requiem and the sound of a basketball. In its stubborn exploration of four-note cells, the piano piece "Inner Cities 2" recalls Morton Feldman — at least until it slips into a smooth, Bill Evans-inflected "Body and Soul." The album continues with a tape montage portrait of Cage, "Erat Verbum John," and a remix of sorts by Domenico Sciajno of an installation entitled "Romulus and Remus Make a Ruckus," before the final flourish of "Return to Sender," performed by the rather grandiosely titled Alvin Curran Filharmonia (whose ranks include Shelley Hirsch, Joan Jeanrenaud, Fred Frith, Domenico Sciajno, and William Winant). While Curran acknowledges that these "chosen snippets are presented as the antipasti and the main course all in one," the overriding effect of listening to Lost Marbles is one of information overload rather than indigestion. It's one of the most fun-filled Tzadik releases of recent times, even if it raises the question as to where the real Alvin Curran is to be found in the midst of this joyous pandemonium.


Born: December 13, 1938 in Providence, RI

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

American composer Alvin Curran co-founded the group Musica Elettronica Viva and has been active with solo performances, international radio concerts and large-scale sound installations since the 1960s. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Curran studied composition under Ron Nelson at Brown University, and afterward with Elliott Carter at Yale. After completing his studies -- which also included piano and trombone -- in 1963, Curran went with Carter to Berlin, where he remained for a year before moving...
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Lost Marbles, Alvin Curran
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