Malcolm Goldstein - "Configurations of Darkness" (A Sounding of Sources)
Violinist and composer Malcolm Goldstein is a product of that exciting ferment that was 1960s New York. Influenced by the work of John Cage, Charles Ives and Earl Brown, he then took part in all manner of musical contexts that skewed the boundaries between improvisation and composition. This newest disc for New World presents two of his compositions, each in two radically different interpretations that speak to the broad scope and flexibility of Goldstein’s compositional vision.
“Configurations in Darkness” (1995) is a startling exercise in rhythmic and microtonal complexity, its material drawn from folksongs of Bosnia-Herzogovina. Goldstein’s solo violin work, forming the first version (or what liner-note writer Peter Garland calls the overture), circumvents all conventions of pitch. Time is treated with a similar irreverence, stretched to the breaking point only to reassert itself in quick bursts of recognizable tempo. Nascent world music elements come to the fore in the chamber version, Philipe Micol’s flute dueling with Goldstein’s rapid fire pizzicato and Eastern-sounding slides. The two components of this diptych share an overall ebb and flow, each fleeting gesture caught and surpassed before silence sets in.
A similarly jagged but constant flow of sound pervades his two “Ishi” pieces, which reference the Californian Indian. The first, “Timechangingspaces” is an electro-acoustic collage based on the rhythmic chanting of the last member of the Yahi tribe, recorded on wax cylinders in 1914. The Ishi recordings overlap, merge and resonate throughout the 20-minute piece, each thread remaining remarkably clear despite polyrhythms and jagged heterophony. “Ishi/Man Waxati” is a version of the work for violin and electronics, but the stunning reverb on the violin is natural – Goldstein recorded it in a cave in southern France.
This disc illuminates Goldstein’s extraordinary compositional aesthetic in a way that lands him among the highest rank of post-World War II American composers. It is not often that such high-quality music is composed for both acoustic and electro-acoustic media, but Goldstein’s penchant for bold experimentation at the further reaches of sonic possibility ensures that the character of each piece is well defined. His compositions deserve much more appreciation than has been afforded them. A Sounding of Sources is a great place to start.