Music of Richard Lerman 1964-1987

[EM Records,]

Dedicated to all bicycle riders, Richard Lerman's "Travelon Gamelon [Music for Bicycles]" was an odd yet simplistic piece at best. Odd, as few people [if any] had previously garnered enough ingenuity to come up with bicycle to be used as an actual instrument. It was simplistic as bicycles are not difficult in a pure musical sense to squeeze sounds from. The 2 CD overview of Lerman's work "Music of Richard Lerman 1964-1987" gives a fairly balanced overview of his work as a whole. Not only are four tracks from his infamous 1983 Folkways recording "Travelon Gamelon" included, there is also a 1986 concert version of the piece included from New Zealand. What does bicycle music sound like, you ask? Each version of the piece is different - varying from musicians striking the spokes of bicycles that are standing upside down, to cyclists actually riding modified bikes along a set-up course. The most interesting variation perhaps is the Concert Version recorded in Amsterdam. Based on the fact that Amsterdam is made up of many cobblestone streets, many of the spokes were broken and the bikes were "looser". The jittery, metallic sounds are more varied and the piece comes off quite well. While the first disc is given over to bicycle music, the second disc shows off a more complete picture of Lerman's work as a composer. Dating back to 1964, "For The Two of Them" is an early example of plunderphonics methodology. In using three source recordings [Robert Graettinger, Stan Kenton Big Band and Mahler's 6th Symphony]; Lerman splices tape, changes speeds of source recordings and comes up with something that is quite haunting and futuristic at once. "End of the Line" pays tribute to people close to Lerman who have passed away. By using a 20-25 seconds tape delay, he had performers choose random notes and play as soon as they heard actual delay. Then they would pick new notes from the selection and play again. Lerman would control the orchestration by having performers slowly drop out of the picture by eradicating the delay incrementally. Perhaps a stand-out piece in the bunch is 1980 installation called "2 ? Minutes for a BASF Loop". By using specially constructed tape loop made from 8 track tape, Lerman passed the sound back and forth between two quad tape decks. He positioned microphones inside the Boston gallery as well as outside. As an incoming rainstorm was nearing, the sea gulls suddenly became very quiet. Thunder and rain replace the birds, while the space is filled with drenching sound. The compilation is accompanied with scores of Lerman's works as well as two movies - "Music for Plinky and Straw" and a live version of "Travelon Gamelon" recorded in 1987. Essential works by a composer whose name in an ideal world would be a household name.

Tom Sekowski

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