Reprinted from Fanfare

Bimstein: Garland Hirschi's Cows. The Louie Louie Variations1. Dark Winds Rising2. The Door. Vox-Dominum. Phillip Kent Bimstein, electronics. Modern Mandolin Quartet (Mike Marshall, Dana Rath, mandolins; Paul Binkley, mandola; John Imholz, mandocello)1. Verdel, Vivienne, and Lucille Jake, voices; Turtle Island String Quartet (Darol Anger, Tracy Silverman, violins; Danny Seidenberg, viola; Mark Summer, cello)2.
STARKLAND ST-205 [DDD]; 57:17. Produced by Phillip Kent Bimstein. (Distributed by Albany.)

Garland Hirschi's Cows, its three parts entitled A Little Bit About My Cows, Pasturale, and Moovement, appeared on From A to Z, and earlier Starkland CD, and has since achieved no small celebrity, as witness the notes to the present release by WNYC's music director, John Schaefer, whose philistinism remains as I remember it. "Bimstein's music is not meant for theorists to wring their hands over in some future century, it's meant to be enjoyed and understood ... you don't need a Ph.D. in musicology to 'get it.' That is part of its considerable charm...." I'd best hasten the dissenting opinion that Utah composer Phillip Kent Bimstein's art is rather richer in implications and therefore more engaging than Schaefer's disavowal of highfalutin' pretensions might lead one to believe. True, the music arrive in jes'-plain-folks chambray and denims, and it's equally true that therein lies much of its charm. But were that merely the case, I'd not have wanted to discuss it beyond a wardrobe summary. For there's a here rather eerie, there a comically delicious edge to what one hears, and edge that places Bimstein, hints of Copland's Americana and Philip Glass's cotton-candy motorics notwithstanding, smack in the middle of postmodernism's ironies of distance. (An objectionable term--postmodernism--has, heaven help us, value.) I guess we call this stuff art music because art is what comes of fussing about with materials with--and when they're good, surprising--purposes in mind.

In Garland Hirschi's Cows (1990), its middle section a rather sentimental adagio, Bimstein does a Utah dairy farmer the courtesy of processing his words in a number of delightful, but never merely bizarre or satirical ways. The obvious command and up-front good humor of the opening section, A Little Bit About My Cows, sets the stage at just the right pitch of anticipation. Voice manipulation is scarcely a novelty; see, for example, Paul Lansky's Idle Chatter pieces (the last of which I trust we've not heard). Bimstein's achievement lies in the curiously poignant-whimsical world Garland Hirschi's Cows so effortlessly creates. In Dark Winds Rising (1992), "a work for string quartet and tape." Bimstein again processes words with skill and respect, though here without the affectionate humor of Garland Hirschi's Cows. The voices are those of Paiute Indians; the topical, indeed politically correct crisis, the establishment of a toxic-waste incinerator too close to home. I more and more suspect that the evanescence of so much politicized art owes to the ineptitude of those who make it, the ungifted too often misperceiving topicality as a quick fix to prominence. On the other hand, we've the likes of George Grosz to prove that anything can fly and remain aloft if one designs it right. With Dark Winds Rising, Bimstein's talent carries the day. The third of the program's voice-based works (and in terms of good sound the least satisfying), the intensely romantic Vox-Dominum (1994) "deconstructs and recombines the vocal melismas of the [Middle East]."

Only a musicologist could possibly guess the rewardingly "classical" morsel The Louie Louie Variations (1989) to have drawn its substance from the "archetypal I-IV-I chord progression of classic rock songs. It sends a small fragment on a deconstructive mission through a contemporary classical landscape." (Incidentally, I'm quoting the composer throughout.) Like the Turtle Island String Quartet in Dark Winds Rising, The Modern Mandolin Quartet sounds to me to have done their job with skill and sympathy. The Door (1994) is Bimstein's studio door, which "when opened and closed at different speeds and tensions, speaks eloquently and with incredible range ... A key turning in the lock added some metallic notes to the mix. I especially loved the door's long phrases, richly complex and very expressive...." I hear The Door as a little masterwork, particularly recommended to those curious to hear what sampled and synthesized sound can achieve in the way of slapstick heights. I relish Bimstein best when he partakes of the incredible lightness of being (to borrow an expression). Thomas Steenland's Starkland label continues to score.

-- Mike Silverton