Dead Beats by Alvin Curran

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Alvin Curran | Dead Beats – performed by Reinier van Houdt
Moving Furniture Records (CDx2/DL)

Alvin Curran is without any doubt one of the main figures in contemporary music composition. The American artist, based in Rome, has in his long and prolific career worked out an enormous quantity of pieces in an incredible range of styles. His works go from concerts, to sound installations, from the exploration of the Jewish musical tradition in the pieces he wrote for shofar to occupying a whole harbour to conduct an ensemble based on a real fleet of ships’ foghorns. Yet his relationship with the piano, being his main instrument, has always been somewhat special and we find again another variation in this album that features two compositions, an old and a new one. On one side we have Inner Cities, perhaps his most well-known piano work, whose composition started in 1991. On the other we have a complete novelty, Dead Beats, especially composed for the hands of Reinier van Houdt and commissioned by Moving Furniture Records itself.

Inner Cities is a beautiful jewel, shining of a dark, crepuscular light. Like islands in an archipelago the little notes and melodic fragments infuse their essence in a sea of liquid resonances and harmonic subtlety, in which silence sits at the weaving loom. A four note melodic cell establishes the key note of the whole composition, recurring constantly to emphasize its identity. In between, dramatic gestures of abrupt power establish moments, buildings landmarks. Big pillars of concrete stand out from the lowest keys of the piano into the very top, darkening the sky, and impervious blocks of sound become towering claustrophobic brick walls blocking light and thoughts.  

The idea behind Curran’s work lays uncompromised in its title, Inner Cities, a way to describe the utter complexity of the inner self using the hectic image of the city as a metaphor. Constantly welcoming external stimuli and influences, favouring sudden and unexpected encounters of people, cultures and ideas, playing with memory and novelty, the piece keeps a total unity but briefly lingers at a sporadic consonant cadenza, a recognizable chord passage, a reminiscent rhythmic pattern. These moments are sonic epiphanies, capturing our gaze before getting back into the feverish light-speed city life.

Dead Beats is instead a collection of five minimal treats, mellow at times, more active and dynamic at others, they all share imperfect repetition as a common feature. Once again is the little gap, the small asymmetric element, the tiny interference that turn these pieces into something constantly surprising. The golden moment is hit in Dead Beats number three and four, which in my opinion encapsulate the whole sense of the entire operation, due to a stronger presence of silence. A silence in which one can float, in abeyance, drenched in a redundant, reminiscent luminous trail. Inside this silence is where it all happens, inside the rests, where all contours blur and the resonances die in a laconic decay. The recursive melodic cells, in their soothing and undecided nature are defined through these silent interferences. The sounds disappear in a natural and honourable way, with no regrets, like petals after the spring blossoming, the type one may witness on a warm Hanami afternoon.

The performance of Reinier van Houd is truly giving back to these pieces the most suitable dimension, by interpreting each moment with measured and careful attention, and turning this recording in the little gem it really is. 


Dead Beats is available on Bandcamp

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