Philip BLACKBURN (b.1962)
#Duluth Harbor Serenade (2011) [8:06]
*Ghostly Psalms (2010) [51:19] (No.1 Jungle Litany [13:20]; No.2 Draw On, Sweet Night [2:11]; No.3 Roots of a Magic Square [4:55]; No.4 The Shadow of my Shadow [4:56]; No.5 Non Judgment Day Is Nigh [4:01]; No.6 Now, More or Less Than Ever [4:26]; No.7 Beyond and Above [3:51]; No.8 Scratch I-Ching [6:48]; No.9 Hymn to the Solar System [5:53])
+Gospel Jihad (2009) [5:10]
#Citizens of Duluth, Minnesota
*(In order of appearance:) Philip Blackburn (conch, balloon flute, brainwave-controlled chorus recordings, dan bau, sheng, khaen, virtual rhythmicon, windharps), Wild Music Chorus, Maria Jette (soprano), Donald Engstrom (speaker), Carrie Henneman Shaw (speaker), Ellen Fullman (strings), Theresa Wong (cello, sheng), Andy Lo (handbells), Sisters of Notre Dame convent (voices), Gary Verkade (organ), Lars Sjöstedt (organ)
+Choir of Clare College Cambridge
rec. #Bay Front festival Park, Duluth Harbor, Minnesota, September 2011. *Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, Minnesota, 15 November 2010. +St Thomas Aquinas Chapel, University of St Thomas, St Paul, Minnesota, 25 September 2010. DDD.
INNOVA 246 [63:48]
The Innova website describes its many-hatted director Philip Blackburn as "a guerilla sound sculptor, creating occasions for listening where the public least expects them." What does that mean? The opening piece, Duluth Harbor Serenade, offers some answers: it is, to quote the notes, "a giant soundscape composition for the entire sounding bodies of the busy port city on Lake Superior: bridge alarms, steam train whistles, boat and fog horns, bells, brakes, and sirens, not to mention a flash-mob band of dozens of local performers parading around with loud outdoor instruments." In essence it is like one of those 'sounds of the rainforest' kinds of CDs that were popular a few years ago, only these are sounds from the human jungle known as Duluth Harbor! In keeping with Blackburn's speciality, a coordinated 'performance' actually took place and this recording is, presumably, a minimally processed version of that. One obvious element missing is the noise of motor traffic, doubtless because it tends to drown out all other sounds in almost any environment, but Duluth still comes across as a very loud place! This is pretty much musique concrète for the new century, although the traditional Ash Grove tune does intrude into the bustle, almost humorously, at a couple of points.
The meat of the CD is the massive Ghostly Psalms, a 50-minute work, recorded live, for large chorus, organ "and unusual instruments". According to the notes again, it takes the listener through a dream Blackburn had in his chorister days thirty years ago: "Ruined abbeys, watery/windy streams of consciousness, and planetary motions feature prominently"! This is, in effect, a huge sound collage with all the ingredients of a weird dream: swirling stasis, ethereality, intimacy, intermittent intelligibility, non sequiturs, blurriness, repetition and so on. The eerie first Psalm, 'Jungle Litany', is impressive enough on its own, judging by scale, noise or imagination. Some listeners may feel mentally drained by it and needing a lie-down before facing a further forty minutes, but the remaining Psalms are less demanding, both as far as length is concerned and in their generally more benign-sounding material. Segueing into each other, the pieces are generally slow-moving, densely layered and flotsam-like, punctuated by occasional outbursts of rowdiness or emotionally-charged objets de son. As a whole, the Ghostly Psalms may well be at the core of what Blackburn is driving at in his very 21st-century artistic statement. Incidentally, Innova point out that live performance videos of both Duluth Harbor Serenade and Ghostly Psalms can be found on YouTube.
The final work is the provocatively named Gospel Jihad, "an a cappella work for two rival choirs, one distant and tranquil, the other spitting fire and brimstone based on beloved (yet vicious) gospel hymn texts." The choir at Clare - England-born Blackburn's own Cambridge College - has probably performed relatively few works like this, and the raving 'evangelical' group certainly seems to relish letting rip as it cites words and phrases from bellicose hymns like 'Onward, Christian Soldiers' in various domineering ways, whilst the other shows great self-control to keep the traditional-style background drone going in the face of much provocation. This is an unsettling, original work that builds to an intense, almost demonic final few seconds.
Innova make a big claim for their catalogue, now more than 400 titles strong, "all somehow non-conformist, individualistic, and groundbreaking". Not all titles may live up to that billing, but this one does on most counts. It is probably only suitable for those interested in experimentalism, however, although a download of Gospel Jihad might be worth anyone's money. More from Blackburn is available on Innova 204, released in 2004.
The CD case is Innova's usual digipak type, and sports their preferred pop album look, with a typical lack of indication as to what kind of music is inside, who the performers are and the like. The 'booklet' is a folded-up strip of glossy paper that slots into the front cover. It is informative, albeit written in Blackburn's own flamboyant style. Sound quality is as immaculate as ever in these superbly produced recordings.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Superbly produced recordings probably only suitable for those interested in experimentalism.