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found music for the new year

I enjoyed singing in the premiere of Richard Toensing’s lush new Christmas Kontakion in Portland last night. For the occasion, Cappella Romana morphed into a large double choir, with the numerous solo roles pulled from within the choir, much like a passion. It is a beautiful piece, and Cappella’s just-released recording is worth hearing.

After the performance, anticipating the drive back to Seattle late in the snowy evening, I fired up the iPod using an adapter that broadcasts the music to my truck’s radio via a weak FM signal. And while listening to Ingrid Matthews playing a solo Bach partita in the cocoon of the truck cab, wiper blades beating over the hiss of the wet pavement, a wonderful thing happened. A radio signal from a small-town religious station began to come into range, sometimes becoming strong enough to interfere, sometimes ebbing away. Being the electronic music guy that I am, I often let these moments play themselves out rather than fiddling with the equipment, just in case. The station was playing very mellow a cappella gospel music – nearly barbershop, but squarer harmonically. The keys of these tunes were related to the key of the partita, and their slow-moving harmonic rhythms melded the two pieces, in granulated and randomly varying form, together in a completely unexpected way. As the station got stronger, the wiper blades began to interact with the reception, eventually forming a simple rhytmic switching between the two signals. Again, both the tempi and the keys of the pieces (and of the wiper blades) were strangely synchronized. While not identical, they were close enough to fit as though written as counterpoint. Finally, after about 15 minutes of slowly evolving ambience, the station won out, mid-sentence, as the preacher cut in with a colorful and colloquial commentary. Wow.

I could not have created this collage, yet it was a brilliant musical moment. A a fine contrasting palette cleansing after the ultra-carefully-crafted Toensing. A memorable evening, on both counts.