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Thomson / Gale

Lesbian American Composers. - sound recording reviews

It was a couple of years late in arriving, but now that it's here it should be a matter of considerable fascination. Composers Recordings Inc., which previously issued two compact discs devoted to gay male American composers, has finally honored women with a similar anthology.

There are differences, of course. Most of the 11 lesbian musicians whose ten works are highlighted on this set will be less familiar to the public than their male counterparts. It is a reflection of the sexual bias of the classical music industry until very recently, not an indication of any particular dearth of talent. CRI produced virtually everything for the disc rather than recycle items from its extensive catalog. Finally, most of the selections here sound like genuine cutting-edge stuff. The oldest work on the disc dates from 1992.

What ultimately makes the collection stand out is the undercurrent of gender oppression and the desire to fuse artistic and lifestyle-ideas within single pieces of music. Spoken and sung texts are frequent. Veteran composer Pauline Oliveros, probably the most familiar one here, offers a collage of voices, World War II sounds, and accordion passages in "Poem of Change," a powerful political statement that does not preclude tremendous invention. Oliveros, not completely against her will, has become a mother figure in the field of women's music. And other composers in this collection pay her overdue tribute.

For example, Linda Montano's "Portrait of Sappho," inspired by Oliveros, features a narrator declaiming about the impermanence of all flesh--even that of the legendary Greek poet. Paula M. Kimper introduces a soaring love duet, "I Want to Live," from Patience & Sarah, the lesbian opera that will be heard complete at New York's Lincoln Center Festival in July.

New Zealand--born Annea Lockwood sets to music Joy Harjo's hair-raising poem about banishing demons, "I Give You Back," which is sung unforgettably by Elizabeth Eshleman. Lockwood's life companion, Ruth Anderson, contributes "SUM (State of the Union Message)," a droll, sinister collage drawn from radio and television commercials taped over a 24-year span. The piece comments potently on the gender roles assigned by the media; it all sounds preachy, but Anderson wields a sharp editing blade, and the results leave one chuckling.

Some of the composers in this anthology present pieces without overt agendas, preferring to reveal through their distinctive sound worlds. In "Wolf Chaser," Eve Beglarian deploys violin, percussion, electronics, and the wheezing device of the title (an Arctic tool made of whale baleen, the sound of which is sampled and slowed down) to construct a haunting essay that conjures a terrain of vast isolation. And in "Winter," Madelyn Byrne favors bowed crotales (ancient finger cymbals) layered with a voice intoning a haiku, and the work is suitably arresting.

The charmer of the collection comes from Nurit Tilles: "Raw Silk (A Rag)" is a sultry specimen of the piano miniature, a genre that has been delighting audiences since Scott Joplin. Tilles, one half of the phenomenal piano team Double Edge, is one of the country's most respected musicians, and her composition proves every bit as engaging as her performance.

More, please, and next time let's have some extended orchestral works. CRI has barely scratched the surface. The surface, fortunately, is far from negligible.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Liberation Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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