Reprinted from Schwann Opus

Phillip Kent Bimstein: Garland Hirschi's Cows
With: The Louie Louie Variations, Dark Winds Rising, The Door, Vox=Dominum
Phillip Bimstein, Garland Hirschi, The Modern Mandolin Quartet, The Turtle Island String Quartet
Starkland ST 205 (CD). 1997. DDD.TT:57:17

While what's typically regarded as modern classical music can often be deemed serious, it's seldom considered entertaining--at least not to the mainstream. But Phillip Kent Bimstein (b. 1947), a multistylist with a naturalist's viewpoint and a fondness for technologically empowered composing, has done the seemingly impossible here: created a highly entertaining, populist-oriented collection of serious modern music. Bimstein's compositions are a virtual breath of fresh air for the new-music discography.

All of these compositions, with the exception of The Louie Louie Variations, extensively utilize digital sampling as a basis for their programmatic content. The most successful is the delightfully skewed Garland Hirschi's Cows. Fashioned around an elderly Utah farmer's description of his livestock, the piece works because it combines simple, tonal material with Hirschi's dry voice in a symbiotic fashion. One never gets the sense that Bimstein is lampooning the farmer's dialogue; rather, there's an affectionate sense of respect from the composer that elevates the music beyond parody or goofiness. Eloquent? Not quite, but appropriately creative and evocative, to be sure.

The Modern Mandolin Quartet's performance of The Louie Louie Variations conveys a firm grasp of structure while utilizing what sounds like a fair amount of improvisation. Similarly, in Dark Winds Rising, the pairing of The Turtle Island String Quartet with vocal samples of Native Americans discussing their cultural history works because it never panders to its subject matter. One of Bimstein's great strengths as a composer is the empathy he seems to have for his source material.

The Door is an imaginative, rhythmically exciting piece composed around the sampled sounds of a creaking door. While there's some similarity with the ground-breaking musique concrète work of Pierre Henry, Bimstein's work is far more traditional and accessible. The overall effect is akin to rock or popular music, which is readily understandable when one considers that Bimstein's early career included a stint in the rock world.

Finally, Vox=Dominum is a rather agitated, often darkly foreboding work that uses vocal sounds as its source. With a middle-eastern flavor, Vox offers variety and considerably less cheeriness than the other pieces. Still, it's a fitting coda for this wide-ranging collection.

Bimstein's greatest asset, as heard throughout this stimulating CD, is his open-minded, respectful embracing of his varied source material. It would be exceedingly difficult to hear Garland Hirschi's Cows, for instance, without an appreciation for the humor and the humanity of the piece. In new music's often overly grim and calculated landscape, Bimstein's organic compositions offer a virtual oasis. This is music for not just the adventurous, but for everyone.

--Carl Baugher