|You say you want to hear some Feldman but don’t want to listen to six hours of string quartet or even an hour and a half of glockenspiel, flute and piano? Well, here’s a surprising release that offers some totally unique aspects of his work as well as a few pieces that can gently ease the innocent listener into his beautiful, slow world. ‘Something Wild’ collects seven compositions written as film scores between 1950 and 1981, performed by the Ensemble Recherche, works that alternate between those very much of Feldman’s mature style as well as several that could very likely fool even an experienced blindfold test victim. The opening track, ‘Something Wild in the City’ (1960) is a case in point. A three-minute piece, for horn, celesta and string quartet, it begins with a gentle, seesawing melody on the celesta, a riff that sounds very much like the sort of mock lullabies popular in 80s horror movies and often imitated by John Zorn in his soundtracks. It shifts to lilting strings expanding on the theme and briefly supporting a horn cry before returning to the opening percussion. Short, bittersweet and eerily charming.
The music accompanying The Hand Namuth/Paul Falkenberg documentary of Jackson Pollack from 1951 for two celli is far sparser, less involved with flow than his music from a decade hence and oddly reminiscent, in its generally high and ethereal tones, of later work by George Crumb. ‘Samoa’, from 1968, is something else again. Beginning with guitar-like strummed harp, it splays out into a near fanfare of brass (trumpet and trombone) and piano, the harp maintaining a solid rhythm underneath. There’s melodic, melancholy trumpet, exploding percussion, idyllic flute; I swear, it’s as though you’re listening to some undiscovered avant-garde piece by Paul Mauriat or Henry Mancini. Zorn anachronistically comes to mind once again with the constant shifting of instruments and melodic blocks; you really wonder whether he might have been aware of this piece although the film it was written for is apparently lost. ‘For Aaron Copland’ for solo violin, on the other hand, is a somberly gorgeous lament, its long, keening phrases spun out unhurriedly but laden with emotion.
Things get a bit wacky again with ‘The Sin of Jesus’, music for a 1961 film based on an Isaac Babel short story. Scored for flute, horn, trumpet and cello, it’s filled with swelling crescendi and, unusual for Feldman, swings from ppp to ff. There’s a lushness to it that differs from the “lushness” one hears in his later chamber works. In the latter, it has more to do with the placement of tones, the exquisiteness of his ear for timbre and time. Here, it’s the actual] juxtaposition of instrumental sounds and their inherent richness. It’s almost as if he was quite willing, to a degree, to compose music that was “functional” in the everyday use of the term which, of course, may simply be the case, his later image of high aestheticism aside. The “Untitled Film Music” begins with a tympanic roll and snarling trumpet, for goodness’ sake, leading into a three note double bass vamp that’s positively jazzy. I bet I could play this for a hundred Feldman aficionados before finding one who could identify it as such. The disc closes with perhaps the most fully realized, mature sounding piece, “De Kooning”, commissioned by the same duo who produced the Pollack documentary. It’s arranged for horn, percussion, piano/celesta, violin and cello and clearly points toward later masterworks like ‘Crippled Symmetry’. The repetitive aspect isn’t there yet, but almost everything else is: the space, the silhouette of notes on a blank canvas, the deliciousness of adjacent sounds. At first blush, one wonders what this music could possibly have to do with De Kooning’s work, but that would be to take the artist’s paintings at face value, seeing only the “action” and missing the contemplation. In that sense, it does as much as you can ask from “soundtrack” music: it shines a certain light that illuminates hitherto unknown aspects, making the listener “see” it anew.
“Something Wild” is a fascinating recording, a must for Feldman fans who require a complete picture of their man. It also contains some fine liner notes by Peter Niklas Wilson. ~Brian Olewnick