So what do you get when you try to use music to explore The Ultimate Question of Life the Universe and Everything or at least that part of it that deals with epistemology and metaphysics and the relationship between music and text? Maybe you get something like Kate Soper’s The Understanding of All Things which consists of three works separated by two improvisatory passages.
The first (and title) track sets an English translation of Franz Kafka’s “Der Kriesel”; a poem about a philosopher who annoys children by stealing their spinning tops. Soper performs the text in. variety of styles ranging from speech to all kinds of vocalisation set against an electronic backdrop. This is followed by the first improvisation where Soper has fun with extracts from George Berkeley’s“Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous” while her co-conspirator Sam Pluta manipulates her voice electronically and adds additional effects.
The longest piece is The Fragments of Parmenides which mashes up Parmenides’ “On Nature”; which features a dialogue between a young man and a goddess on the nature of reality and perception, with WB Yeats’ “For Anne Gregory” in which a young woman tries to persuade her suitor that loving her yellow hair is not loving her à cause de hair dye which the young man refutes with theological certainty. The poem is sung twice; firstly in a simple , undemonstrative style and then it’s played back on a tinny speaker inside the resonance chamber of the piano. Again, varied vocals and lots of electronics.
The second dialogue has no text and is simply Soper vocalising while Pluta adds electronic effects. And so we come to So Dawn Chromatically Descends to Day which gets straight to the point with Fred Lerdahl’s “Two Ways in Which Music Relates to the World” but that would be too simple so it’s combined with Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. Ultimately it’s like a very weird philosophy lecture cum multi-media exploration of core concepts of Perception and Reality done with a fair amount of humour and a dazzling array of technique. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea (or Brownian motion generator) but it’s quite unlike anything else I’ve ever listened to and I’m glad I did.
It was recorded in Sweeney Concert Hall, Northampton MA last year and the mixing and engineering was done by Sam Pluta so, at least, there’s no philosophical issue about whether the recording is an accurate reflection of the performance. The messenger is the medium.
The documentation on this one is a bit special with full texts and lots of interesting explanatory material. It’s available as a physical CD or as a digital release with MP3 and FLAC (both 44.1kHz/16bit and 96kHz/24bit) options.
Catalogue Number: New Focus Recordings FCR322.