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Phillip SCHROEDER (b. 1960?)
Move in the Changing Light 2 (2005)a,b [12:48]
Rising, See the Invisible (2004)a,c,d [8:50]
Where Joy May Dwell (2005)a [15:55]
Make a Distinction (2004)a [0:59]
The Patience It Contains (2005)a [6:31]
This We Have (2005)a,b  [9:33]
Move in the Changing Light 1 (2004)a [7:28]
Phillip Schroeder (piano, synthesizer, electric bass, percussion, digital delays)a, Amy McGinty (soprano)b, Robert Best (baritone)c, Daniel Cline (cello)d
rec. Harwood Recital Hall, Russell Fine Arts Center, Henderson state University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas, January–October 2005. DDD
INNOVA 655 [62:07] 
Experience Classicsonline

Imagine one of those arching, mesmerizing phrases of classic Philip Glass process music breaking off from the larger pattern and forming a blissful, spinning eddy curled in upon itself. Much of Phillip Schroeder’s music on this album sounds something like that. The good thing is that I like so-called minimalism, because I’ve stretched my musical boundaries enough over the years to “get it”. The bad thing is that those eddies remain closed, static worlds where nothing else intrudes.

Now, I can shift my frame of reference from mentally subdividing beats to thinking of phrases in a slowly changing, additive way. It’s really just a matter of shifting one’s point of view from musical sentences to musical paragraphs. But I can’t quite shift myself into a state so neutral that the events in these pieces seem like major happenings. Sometimes Glass and some of his colleagues have been accused of writing trance music, that one must abandon all sense of time or event in order to understand the music. But that really isn’t the case for Glass. One could make a stronger argument, I suppose, for some of the “holy minimalists” like Arvo Pärt, but I think perhaps the real thing has finally arrived in this music by Phillip Schroeder. I have heard nothing approaching blissed-out stasis closer than these pieces. 

My initial impression was positive, despite the mid-range muddying use of digital delays to create shimmering textures. Move in the Changing Light 2 starts the disc with shimmering, iridescent arches of sound. Multi-tracked, slightly out-of-sync pianos and synthesizers glisten while a wordless soprano spins wistful phrases through the shiny web. Very pretty. These textures are explored at such length, when a brief pause arrives, it makes a strong impact. Then the textures resume, wrapping warmly around the listener. Very nice, though at almost 13 minutes, I could imagine one getting a bit restless with it. 

Then the next track, Rising, See the Invisible, started, with slow, shimmering textures, this time with a mournful baritone voice coursing through the texture. That takes another nine minutes. Where Joy May Dwell features webs of only glittering, shimmering, slowly revolving pianos and their ubiquitous digital delay. Chalk up another 16 minutes. Then, inexplicably, there is a short piano piece less than a minute long with broken up textures, called Make a Distinction. It is indeed the only distinction on the album, but what is it? A parody of shorter, more eventful pieces? 

Shimmering seventh chords return like so many twittering birds in a sun-lit fog in The Patience It Contains, which even at six-and-a-half minutes was trying my patience. The soprano returns in This We Have, which at least has the advantage of cycling through some interesting tonal side-shifts along the way, as well as some changing textures, courtesy of the synthesizer. Best of all, it actually seems to arrive somewhere, at a pleasant cantilena heard briefly near the end. Again though, I can’t fathom why there are nine-and-a-half minutes of it. Then for the grand finale, we get Move in the Changing Light 1, which differs from the first one mainly in the lack of soprano. Apparently, it takes seven-and-a-half minutes to demonstrate that she’s not there. Or else it took 13 minutes in the sequel to demonstrate she was there. Enough. 

As noted above, the looping of piano tone has a tendency to muddy and harden the midrange on this disc, making it harsh on the ears. Even on the unlooped voices and instruments, though, the sound is rather onerously studio-bound. Everything is miked closely, allowing for no natural reverberation to give bloom to the sound.

I don’t mean to impugn Mr. Schroeder’s art. There’s no doubt that he knows what he’s doing, and he’s doing exactly what he wants. It may well be that there’s something here I just don’t get. But I suspect I will be only one among many of the Philistines who would be equally nonplussed when confronted with this recording. Perhaps those seeking music for meditation or music by which they can polish their New Age crystals will love this. Myself, if I’m going to meditate to music, I’ll take a heady brew like Stockhausen’s Stimmung instead of this tepid broth.

Mark Sebastian Jordan 


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