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Alvin Curran - Fiori Chiari, Fiori Oscuri Music Album Reviews

Alvin Curran - Fiori Chiari, Fiori Oscuri Music Album Reviews
Fusing toy piano, minimalist improvisation, children’s voices, modular synthesizers, and a purring cat, among other fanciful sounds, the American composer’s 1978 album revels in the accidental music of everyday life.

In the mid 1960s, the American composer Alvin Curran experienced what he called “a compelling need to toss my bourgeois ambitions and 12-tone music training in the trash and re-embrace music-making in an uncorrupted innocent way—a conceptual re-boot to an imagined primeval state.” He would henceforth commit to simplicity by employing monophony, simple strumming patterns, and the octave interval. In 1969, with his improvisational group Musica Elettronica Viva, he wrote a score in the form of a recipe that involved one toy xylophone, two large resonant glass plates, three or four old cow or goat bells, and several ping-pong balls, along with dozens of other instruments. The instructions were minimal; “The best soups usually just happen,” he declared. When the collective toured Europe and the U.S. during this period, they’d perform “Soundpool,” a piece inviting professional musicians and amateurs alike to join. Curran estimates that thousands participated, and in reminiscing about the time, he recalls, “Music was said to belong to the people.”

Such egalitarian music-making also coincides with another aspect of his personal philosophy: that all the world is “a real and imaginary concert hall which has a nonstop music.” Curran would obsessively record the cries of animals, the “empty” sounds of abandoned locales, even himself having sex: Nothing was off limits, because everything was beautiful. This culminated in his solo debut masterpiece in 1975, the intimate and otherworldly Canti e Vedute del Giardino Magnetico. Replete with field recordings and dreamy synth curlicues, it also features his voice, something which hadn’t been presented in a public musical context since his Bar Mitzvah. He understood how monumental the piece was, so the follow-up—his inimitable 1978 LP Fiori Chiari, Fiori Oscuri—necessitated a deeper embrace of his musical capabilities and the sounds available to him.

Much like Canti, Fiori Chiari, Fiori Oscuri is a longform piece whose distinct parts meld into a seamless tapestry. It begins softly, with a cat’s purring. This introduction is reminiscent of Annea Lockwood’s Tiger Balm, but the subsequent toy-piano plinks suffuse Curran’s piece with comforting naivety. An actual piano soon arrives, complementing that guileless charm to form an arresting lullaby. These initial 100 seconds are crucial table-setting: Other musique concrète pieces from the time were dark, discordant, and alien, but everything here is homey and eminently familiar. Even stylistically adjacent works offer inadequate comparisons: It’s less austere than Luc Ferrari’s Presque Rien or Henning Christiansen’s Fluxyl (Musik Essayistik), but more academic than Ernest Hood’s Neighborhoods. The balance that Curran strikes is the result of an incisive one-two punch: disarm the listener’s expectations about avant-garde music, and create childlike appreciation for everyday experiences.

Literal children appear, too. Alexis, the five-year-old son of Curran’s close friend Frederic Rzewski, describes building a spaceship, going to the moon, and finding a massive spider before coming home to eat cake. Another kid explains events involving the mythological city of Troy. These inclusions are reminders of the power of imaginative storytelling, and the voiceless passages on Fiori Chiari, Fiori Oscuri are similarly free-flowing. Serge Modular drones and wispy ocarina flutters are woven into passages with chirping birds and looping yelps. The convergence of all these sounds into such a dizzying and nostalgic flurry feels like magic.

Later, Curran brings out his piano to improvise. It mutates from repetitive, minimalist motifs into a raucous take on the jazz standard “Georgia on My Mind,” but the piece’s sentimental spirit remains. When Curran was an adolescent, his father gave him his first fake book, and it contained so much music that he considered it a sacred text. Decades later he’d compile his own, called The Alvin Curran Fakebook. In a sense, Curran’s music serves as a guide to playing music, too. With Fiori Chiari, Fiori Oscuri, he leads you by hand through a wide expanse of sounds and emotions. All of it remains as down-home as it is ambitious, as if a reminder that music is both infinite in its scope and, more importantly, readily accessible. Music belongs to everyone who seeks it out.
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Alvin Curran - Fiori Chiari, Fiori Oscuri Music Album Reviews Alvin Curran - Fiori Chiari, Fiori Oscuri Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, August 20, 2021 Rating: 5

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