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DURAS: DUCHAMP

John Zorn

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Anthony H.
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars John Zorn: Duras: Duchamp [1997]

Rating: 6/10

Duras: Duchamp is an album of avant-garde contemporary classical music by American composer John Zorn. As the title suggests, this album consists of two pieces dedicated to French author Marguerite Duras and French artist Marcel Duchamp, respectively. These compositions build upon the minimalism explored on prior albums such as Elegy and Redbird. However, the coherency and identity that was conspicuously absent on those albums is much more present here. While those albums relied on directionless minimalism, Duras: Duchamp creates an atmospheric ambience through soft piano, dissonant strings, and ethereal mallet percussion. These pieces are just as all-over-the-place as one would expect from an album like this, but a general sense of musical direction prevents them from sounding like mishmash.

"Duras: Premiere Livre" begins the album with ambient piano and xylophone (or marimba; I don't know). Dissonant, twangy strings add to the atmosphere, creating an unsettling piece of atmospheric chamber music. The piano playing is particularly impressive here. "Duras: Deuxieme Livre" is a short interlude centered on jangling strings and auxiliary percussion. The third movement of the "Duras" piece is much more string-orientated. It's entirely ambient, relying on slow-building musical sequences and minimalistic percussion. Yet again, the atmosphere is impeccable here; however, this movement would have benefited from a few more musical ideas. "Duras: Epilogue" ends the "Duras" section of the album with some excellent violin-centered dissonance. "Etant Donnes: 69 Paroxyms for Marcel Duchamp" is the piece that really brings the album down. This is a not a terrible composition; there is potential to be seen here. However, it relies far too much on non-musical sound effects and directionless noise.

Duras: Duchamp is a very good album that borders on excellence. However, there are certain elements that bring the album down. It sometimes seems like Zorn is uncomfortable with letting his compositions stand on their own merits; instead, he adds assortments of avant-garde fluff that turns what have been good pieces into haphazard conglomerations of unpleasantness. "Duras" is almost completely free of this muddling, which is what makes it such an excellent piece; it uses actual music to create atmosphere, rather than avant-garde noise. The "Duchamp" section suffers immensely, however. Parts of this piece are downright uncomfortable to listen to; the listener is assaulted with noises, including metal clanging together and someone drinking out a straw an inch away from the microphone. There is little musical value to such things, if any at all. Still, the majority of this album is quite good, and I would lightly recommend it to anybody interested in chamber music.

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Send comments to Anthony H. (BETA) | Report this review (#551827)
Posted Monday, October 17, 2011 | Review Permalink

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