Steve Peters: Occasional Music
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“Though perhaps not intended as such, Steve Peters’ Occasional Music can be broached as a career retrospective, though doing so shouldn’t lead one to presume that the work by the sound and installation artist is finished. Nevertheless, the collection spans two decades of collaborative recording activity and showcases multiple stylistic paths Peters has pursued through an admittedly ‘made-to-order’ involvement in dance, theatre, and film / video projects. Three of the recording’s most musically satisfying pieces frame the album. The opener, ‘Paris, Once’ (1984), is a lovely, spare solo piano etude (performed by Robin Holcomb, an under-appreciated composer in her own right) that’s close in melancholy spirit to from shelter. Occasional Music closes with ‘Circular Lullaby’ (1998), a haunting setting where celestial female voices alternate and overlap in an hypnotic manner reminiscent of Eno’s Music for Airports, and ‘Two Rivers’ (2003), an equally beautiful and tranquil electric guitar piece.
What’s most striking about ‘Ancestral Memory’ (1996), isn’t so much its instrumentation (accordion, gongs, metal bowl) but the way in which Peters separates its contents into two contrasting tempi, one agitated and frenetic and the other ponderous and slow-moving. Occasional Music also documents Peters’ passion for non-Western forms, such as Javanese gamelan (he’s a founding member of Gamelan Encantada, a Javanese-American ensemble), with the meditative ‘Planctus’ (1994) a particularly accomplished example. A dream-like quality permeates ‘Unchained’ (1997), where a suling (a simple bamboo flute) wends an undulating path over Middle Eastern-flavoured percussion rhythms, and a jazz dimension emerges during ‘Courtship Rituals’ (1996) when cornetist Jonathan Baldwin and saxophonist Tom Guralnick solo over a spooky tribal base. Occasional Music does sometimes venture into extreme territory, as evidenced by ‘Auto de Fé’ (1997) whose garbled voice effects and pounding drum accents make it clearly the recording’s most ‘out there’ piece.
Despite their obvious differences, these rigorously composed pieces share an uncorrupted purity. If Occasional Music doesn’t ultimately provide a singular representation of the composer’s style, it does present a seventy-minute summative portrait of Peters’ diverse and high-quality music-making.” (Textura)
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