Reprinted from St. Louis Post-Dispatch
February 1, 2000
Phillip Kent Bimstein uses “found sounds,” like a bat hitting a ball, in his compositions
by Sarah Bryan Miller, St. Louis Post-Dispatch music critic
Is it classical music with pop aspects? Is it pop music with a classical grounding? Does it matter?
Composer Phillip Kent Bimstein, a classically trained graduate of the now-defunct Chicago Conservatory of Music, was the leader of an ’80s New Wave group called Phil ‘n the Blanks, which appeared on MTV. For the last 10 years he’s been striking out in a different direction, writing what he calls “character pieces.”
“A lot of the work I do tells stories,” says Bimstein, whose music incorporates what might be called “found sounds” — a creaking door, a mooing cow, the hoot of an owl, sampled and synthesized and put to use. He writes for various instrumental ensembles. And he uses human voices: “I interview a real person, talking about his life, and I mine the voice for its tonality, pitch, shape and rhythm. I write music that flows out of speech patterns. The piece I’m working on now, it sounds like he was singing.”
This is music that’s hard to pin down. “There’s a blending of music in my life. There’s classical, all the way back to Bach. There’s Stravinsky and very contemporary music. But I also like alternative rock, techno, hip-hop and jazz.” . . .
His St. Louis commission, for the local woodwind quintet the Equinox Chamber Players, came from Continental Harmony, a project of the American Composers Forum and the National Endowment for the Arts. On July 4, 2000, 58 “host communities” in the 50 states will celebrate the turn of the millennium with new music that, according to the fact sheet on the project, will “best reflect their history, culture, and hopes for the future.” . . .
Bimstein describes his new piece . . . as “bigger, more boisterous” than some of his other work and “definitely not meditative.” . . .
He started his explorations last summer with baseball, “with the Cardinals as a symbol of the city.” Winning, with some difficulty, a field pass, he went to several games at the end of the season to record sounds — the sound of the ball smacking into a bat, the crowd sounds, the players and the vendors.
Then he discovered Bushy Wushy, “the beer man.” “He has a great voice; he’s been selling for 39 years. He’s got a great spirit.” Bimstein interviewed the vendor, “almost like a journalist, but I’m interested in the sound as well as the story. Bushy’s going to be a star. He embodies the storehouse of memory. He’s been a witness to great events; he’s a lively part of the community. He wants to make the crowd happy. He’s a heroic Everyman. He embodies a certain entrepreneurial aspect of St. Louis.”
Bimstein also visited Dressel’s Pub, where he heard members of the Scott Joplin Society playing the master’s tunes. Since Joplin lived here nine years, incorporating his music was a natural. “I’m thinking of taking fragments of the “Maple Leaf Rag,” deconstructing them, and interweaving them with melodies derived from Bushy’s voice and with my melodies. And I’m going to use the “St. Louis Blues.” I may reduce them to just a measure, a fragment; at other times I’ll use a whole phrase, so people know what it is.
The percussion section will be pure baseball: the bat striking the ball, the ball hitting a glove. “And the people of St. Louis will be in the piece, in the cheers of the crowd.” The Equinox Chamber Players ” will be playing more classical themes.”
The 12-minute work will take Bimstein a year to complete, from talking to the Cardinals’ front office for a month to get that field pass to completion. He spent two months collecting sounds, a couple of months more “to let the ideas germinate” and six months to complete his composition.