Christopher CAMPBELL (b.1977)
Sound the All-Clear
Sleepless Nights [3:35]
Sunface Streams Moonface [3:40]
All-Clear (1,2,3,4,5) [9:10]
Interlude 1 [1:50]
North Wind [4:46]
Diamond Marimba [1:39]
Imago [10:54]
Interlude 2 [1:10]
Shining Furrows [3:53]
Ritual Waking, Ritual Sleepwalking [10:39]
Home [3:37]
Capping Verse [1:33]
Performers: Christopher Campbell, Michelle Kinney, Jacqueline Ultan, Shannon Wettstein, Todd Hammes, Susie Ibarra, Philip Blackburn, Phyllis Zumach, Serena Mira Asta, Susanne E Smith, Greg Joly, Mary Ellen Erlandson, Juliann Johnson, Cheryl Hodges-Savola, Benta LeMunyon, Phyllis Lindberg, Lora Barstad, Eric Barstad, Flute Force, Meredith Samuelson, Sara Mergens, Laurie R Johnson, Penny Bartz, Don Hogquist, Mark Hirschboek, Carl Samuelson, Brian Towne, Bert Bast, Jameson Jon Baxter, Larry Wilson, Ralph Johnson.
rec. No information given. DDD
INNOVA 750 [56:16]
 
In post-modern parlance Christopher Campbell is a 'sound artist' rather than a composer by any traditional definition. That said, the Innova website does refer to him as a "composer/film-maker", and he did indeed study composition with, among others, David Del Tredici. From the first seconds of Sleepless Nights, which begins with a scratchy LP sample of part of a folk-song sung by an amateur choir culminating in the inevitable stuck stylus, it is clear that Bach, Beethoven and Wagner have no relevance here. Moreover, the CD case lists only 'personnel', not performers or instruments, who "sing, fidget and groove to realize Campbell's cunningly-contrapuntal, architecturally-planned score."
 
As the blurb further puts it, in contemporary if not altogether useful terms, Campbell's work "hits the Reboot button on classical music." The twelve tracks, which form a through-composed suite of sorts, constitute "a luscious organic ritual that transcends studio, concert hall, epoch and continent; American Gagaku for the space age."
 
Campbell's soundscapes are built up, though never densely, from "blended essences of voice, piano, music boxes, sheng, prepared koto, strings, electric guitar, PVC flutes, balloon bassoons, Aeolian harp, toys, lithophones and other choice sound sources". Cue much swishing, rattling, twanging, rumbling and pinging, as well as a deliberate - and successful - attempt to evoke traditional Japanese gagaku music. The total effect is quite relaxing, sometimes even mesmerising, the music unfolding at an andante pace, gentle, often wistful. Itís largely euphonious, never cacophonous, and thereís little sign of digital interference. There are plenty of real people playing traditional instruments in evidence.
 
Doubtless there will be critics, especially in the U.S., who say that Campbell 'breaks all the rules' as he 'tears down barriers' in these sonic collages. Such a view is naive, though - Campbell's rules are his own, and for every 'barrier' he pulls down, he erects more as he positions himself musically as a post-modernist. This is neither crossover, nor pop, nor 'classical', but something that borrows from all those realms. Fifty years ago it might have pleased no one. Today it will still find many happy to reject it as musical charlatanry or hippyish pretentiousness. It is like something a modern-day Harry Partch or John Cage might have amused themselves with, if not listeners.
 
Yet, leaving aside questions of whether or not Campbell has anything compelling to say here, the pieces somehow contrive to be musical in a laid-back kind of way. Listener interest is maintained through an intelligent variation of timbres and textures, as well as an endearing degree of light-heartedness. Really there can be no question of mountebankery, because Campbell is not making grandiloquent statements or trying to be elaborate in any way. Instead he offers the listener a benevolent, hazy meander through an ornamental, slightly oriental garden of colours, sonorities and textures.
 
The CD case is of the digipak type, and has the look - intentional, no doubt - of a mass-produced pop album. This impression is enhanced by the 'battered typewriter' print, and a complete lack of indication as to what kind of music this is, what the forces are or who the performers are. These questions are not wholly answered either by the inside notes, printed incidentally straight onto the card, or indeed by listening to the disc! Campbell's quirky notes on individual items range from the raw - Interlude 1 is "Tons of birds in a bush!" - to the harlequinesque: Shining Furrows is "...awe, the light dances and the whole earth is waving. This one is from a bean sprout or insect perspective." There are further general notes by George Tsontakis, who, as Campbell's erstwhile teacher, was always likely to pen something dithyrambic, and so it proves - but at least his comments are slightly more illuminating!
 
Sound quality is excellent, although in fairness to labels recording musicians in concert halls and churches, these recordings have been through a mixer; yet the processing has been very skilfully done, and sampling is unobtrusive. The same music is also available, by the way, on Innova 749 - not a CD, but a vinyl disc! Innova certainly is a trendy label.
 
Byzantion
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
 
Musical in a laid-back kind of way.