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Friday, October 21, 2011

Arthur Russell: Tower Of Meaning


ARTHUR RUSSELL: TOWER OF MEANING (1983)

1) Tower Of Meaning; 2) Tower Of Meaning; 3) Tower Of Meaning; 4) Tower Of Meaning; 5) Tower Of Meaning; 6) Tower Of Meaning.

The only reason to listen to this record — once, if you can stomach it — is if you have already as­similated the oddness of 24→24 Music, and want to experience one of the most bizarre transiti­ons from album to album since Lou Reed followed up Sally Can't Dance with Metal Machine Music. «Open-minded» opinions on such albums usually imply that it is the ability to «get» such artistic statements that separate superhumans from mere mortals; I am more of the «close-min­ded» type, who just thinks it's misguided crap, so bear with me.

Apparently, though, it wasn't supposed to be that crappy. Tower Of Meaning, like basically all of Russell's projects, is an unfinished recording. It was supposed to become a soundtrack for an avantgarde staging of Medea, with voices and additional sound layers recorded over the cel­lo, key­board, and orchestral parts laid down by Russell. However, the composer and the director eventually parted ways because they quickly began hating each other's guts, and Arthur decided to simply put out whatever was finished, because, clearly, by the time he was fired from the pro­ject, he knew he would not have the enthusiasm to go on messing around with it.

In the end, Tower Of Meaning became an interminable fourty-five slab of «incidental music», released on a private label run by (who else?) Philip Glass. A comprehensive description would be «Ambient Symphony for Cello and Orchestra»: most of the space is occupied by repetitive two or three note phrases drawn out to various lengths and thickened by various combinations of (mo­stly string) instruments. Sometimes it sounds like tuning up; sometimes (very rarely) it sounds like «generic» modern classical slowed down to a creep and deconstructed to the bare essence; and sometimes it sounds like a stray dog killer.

I can definitely agree with a reviewer who found some «gloominess» lurking inside the recording — it certainly does not convey any happiness, that's for sure. But there is really no sense in pre­tending that it somehow affects the senses on a spiritual, rather than purely physiological level. Basically, my idea of «experimental music» may be stretched out far and wide, but nowhere does it cover a gloomy lonesome guy replaying the same few notes on his cello for 45 minutes. At least when Brian Eno does that, there is no effect of somebody drawing out a hacksaw and getting to work on your poor harmless ears. Thumbs down — this is a classic example of a «failed ex­periment» if there ever was one, although, granted, Russell may only have been guilty of deciding to make the raw materials public, instead of grinding them in the trash can. (Gotta love the title, though: as ironic as irony can get).

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