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Light Hour


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Amazon.com: 2 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Glittering bells and fearsome drums, but something was lost when the original improvisation was nailed down Dec 13 2010
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
In the 1960s, Per Norgard discovered the "infinity series", a way of generating melodies that were endlessly self-similar. The principle could be applied to any scale, whether chromatic or diatonic, and the 4th, 8th, 16th etc. note of the series was always the same as the basic series, just so much slower. That meant that the same melody could be played at different speeds, but the strands would always meet on unisons. For some years he applied this innovative modernist principle to a series of daunting orchestral works.

But in the following decade, Norgard came up with a groovy style of collaborative drumming by applying the infinity series to a simple two-note scale. And you didn't even have to use any particular notes, but simply the opposition of a bright sound and a dark sound. Again, no matter how slow or fast a tempo a given drummer is playing, he can always hear if he's in sync, because bright sounds will always coincide with bright sounds, and dark with dark. For an idea of how this works, the first 16 notes are bright-dark-dark-bright dark-bright-bright-dark dark-bright-bright-dark bright-dark-dark-bright -- the booklet explains more. Even children can learn this music in less than an hour, and though I have very little musical ability, I enjoy playing along.

This form of collaborative improvisation flourished especially in the 1970s and 1980s, but it still exists today in small clubs. People get together and jam, sometimes extending the infinity series to the length of an entire evening. Such is the genesis of "A Light Hour", which began as an improvisation in 1986 and which Norgard ultimately set down in fixed form in 2008. On this Dacapo release we hear it performed by the Percurama Percussion Ensemble, a group of students working under Gert Mortensen at Royal Danish Conservatory of Music in Copenhagen.

Percurama's members are from 15 different countries, and Norgard presents an array of percussion instruments from all over the world. There's the standard exoticism like djembe and maracas, but a great deal of the instruments here (there's a list in the booklet) I had never before heard of. Sure enough, the work begins with a "light" sound, and lasts nearly one hour. It is divided into four movements of roughly 15 minutes each, each evoking a particular region: European classical music in the first, Afro-Cuban drumming in the second, China in the third, and Balinese gamelan in the last.

"A Light Hour" is a pretty work, but I see it as a very minor part of Norgard's output, especially when most of his percussion writing is astounding. This piece might have a wealth of timbres, but it lacks the awesome virtuosity and more elaborate concepts of "I Ching" for percussion solo (hear it on a BIS disc) or "Echo Zone" for two percussionists (on a Chandos release). It would have been fine as an improvisation, but Norgard's fixed version sucks all the life out of it. Yes, Norgard did encourage the retention of some improvisatory elements, but when you're a player working in such a fixed scheme with a dozen other people, you're limited in what you can do. When I the listener am not able to be part of this, but rather just sit back and take it all in passively, something is missing.

Still, people who just like colourful percussion will love this, and I don't think it's that bad, just not up to Norgard's usual standards.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Mesmerizing Hour April 30 2010
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Per Nørgård (b. 1922) is one of Scandinavia's most celebrated composers and has consistently written music that is both beautiful and engrossing. His theoretical writings about his music are, frankly, beyond me. I have tried and failed to understand the theoretical underpinnings of his 'infinity series.' But I do respond both viscerally and intellectually to his music. The work presented on this disc is an hour-long piece for percussion ensemble whose construction is tightly notated but which allows for some choices to be made by the instrumentalists. The ensemble requires a minimum of ten percussionists and on this recording they have origins in 15 different countries. There is a huge array of familiar and exotic instruments, the latter including such things (most of which I am unfamiliar with) as pai gu, aerophone, darabuka, ching-ching, Jingling Johnny, yun luo, peng ling, gangsa, nao bo, anklung, slit drums, dobachi, vibraslap, cabasa, caxixi, reong, marine shell trumpet, cajón and gopichand. There is use of fractal elements in the work such that the materials in the first minute contain all that will be used (and transformed) in the first four minutes, which then contains all that will be used in the first quarter hour, and so on.

The work is divided into four quarter-hour sections simply numbered I, II, III and IV. To quote the booklet notes: 'The first 15 minutes have a bright, light character and alternate between rhythms and melodic playing. The following 15 minutes are more insistent ... Afro-Cuban ... the third quarter-hour moves in the direction of an Asiatic-Chinese sound world with metal and wood in the foreground. The ... concluding 15 minutes moves from the sounds of the Balinese gamelan towards a modulating, European sound world ... and ends freely fantasizing with a collective improvisation over motifs from the work ...'

Nørgård has said he wanted to write a work which, during its performance, the audience would feel free to come and go, withdraw to chat with each other, go for a walk, get something to eat, and so on. It is, in miniature, the evening-long work of this sort that he has always wanted to write but never did.

The percussion ensemble Percurama is the brain-child of virtuoso Danish percussionist Gert Mortensen. In this performance there are 22 musicians recorded at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in 2009. Sound is crystal clear with just the right amount of ambience. The performance seems both exuberant and contemplative. I found my attention drifting in and out but overall I came away with a strangely invigorated feeling.

Scott Morrison

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