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Pauline Oliveros - Accordion & Voice / The Wanderer

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Artist: Pauline Oliveros

Album: Accordion & Voice / The Wanderer

Label: Important

Review date: Jun. 15, 2007

A quietly crucial American composer, Pauline Oliveros has been a pioneer of music that works at the confluence of tone, breath and the expansion of perceptions – an organic tone scientist breathing spirit music with the sometimes unwieldy lungs of the accordion. The eclectic Important label has offered us a nice surprise, re-issuing on CD two classic Oliveros albums from the 1980s.

Accordion & Voice, from 1982, could not be better titled. It’s a breathtakingly intimate record, with each extended (originally side-long) piece going deep. “Horse Sings From Cloud” is based on a dream Oliveros had, and offers interactive billows of sustained accordion and vocal drones, broken only by the need for breath – in the lungs of singer and accordion both. The piece is hypnotic and stately, with the vibrations of reeds and larynx combining to create the sense of a calming and centering ancient ritual.

“Rattlesnake Mountain” reveals Oliveros’ virtuosity. A meditation upon and evocation of a mountain landscape important to the composer, the piece presents long fluttering lines rising from and interacting with slowly shifting drones. Rich in the ornamentation and permutation of long melodic lines, the result might at times suggest Carnatic classical music, Sufi singing, or the grace-noted explorations of Scottish bagpipe Pibroch. But the imperatives of breath and body at the heart of Oliveros’ music bring out her own very personal musical calligraphy.

The Wanderer, originally released in 1984, presents Oliveros’ accordion and vision in live recordings, within various group contexts. The re-issued version opens, surprisingly, with a previously un-released piece, “Duo for Accordion & Bandoneon,” featuring Oliveros and David Tudor. It’s a conversation between the two players and their instruments, offering a plethora of reed tones, bleeps, blurts, and satisfyingly Cage-ian explosions and silences. “The Wanderer: Song & Dance” is a wild, stomping piece for the Springfield Accordion Orchestra and percussion – a sort of Ur-folk dance concerto, with rhythmic cells pumping, pulsing and, once again, breathing . A quartet version of “Horse Sings From Cloud” –featuring Oliveros with Heloise Gold, Julia Haynes and Linda Montano – re-imagines the billowing drones and textures of the piece with the added complexity of the four players’ various wind-blown reeds and their microtonal variations in tuning, making for a quietly awe-inspiring soundwork.

Important has given loving attention to detail in these reissues, reproducing in CD-size the LP jackets, retaining the original liner notes and adding new notes by the composer. Best of all, the CD mastering has preserved the dynamic range of the recordings, especially evident in the close-up warmth of Accordion & Voice and the amazing rising energy of “The Wanderer.” Taken together, these two CDs present a wide-ranging and integral sampling from a true American original.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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