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21st Century Perspectives -- Amram & Bernstein

21st Century Perspectives -- Amram & Bernstein

1 July 2022 / William Anderson / On the Beat

RSF commissioned David Amram to set two poems by his old friend Jack Kerouac, celebrating the Kerouac Centenary, scored for voice and two guitars.

Hear them on September 10 at St. John’s in the Village, an opening event for The Village Trip. They will be performed sometime beteween 8 and 10PM. in a guitar marathon.

I am revisiting David Amram’s film scores and I must jot down some impresssions while they are fresh.

Splendor in the Grass

The wonderful theme is memorable for its phrase endings with 4-3 moves, feeling like Renaissance music filtered through Appalachia, with some bluesy minor/major moves in the mid-phrases. The 4-3 is always a harmonic cow-catcher, especially in equal temperament. 4-3 moves, collecting sets the 5 cycle in motion, erasing the bluesey, linear 034 stuff. This sets up a rhythm of memorables: 034…..027….034…..027….etc. These are the memorables swimming is triadic water.

There’s more to the Amram sound: a very respectful chorale feel that tells us, “listen carefully because something important is in the works here”.

Manchurian Candidate is less bluesey, but still has that noble, stately quality.

Amram’s syncretism is European, Appalachian & Blues, knowing that Appalachian & Blues are already syncretisms.

Bernstein is in this universe, but he adds a Hindemithian syncretism. This occured to me listening to the Chichester Psalms with the Harrisburg Symphony about 18 months ago – quartal harmony is made to work with the bluesy American things.

What’s 21st C. about these observations? Simply that we care about these things, but we failed to care about them during the heady days of the modernist bubble. They are too subtle, but more in the bourgeois space. Also too subtle are the collections landed in FariƱas Musica Para Dos Guitarras – also Hindemithian quartal harmonies, but stretched into pentatonic and then a theme where the tune lands on 047, 027, 045 in succession, all lovely acceptable dissonances but carefully administered. Once again, too subtle for our Babbitt ears, but in the 21st C. I take notice of the care and the fine distinctions between these landing places.

Next, a note about Manchurian Candidate –

Like Daphne DuMarier’s The Birds (the book) – the crazy birds is the sci-fi element that dramatizes the sense of being out of sorts with nature – that is conflated with the crazy manifestations of sexual tensions. When body angst hits the brain and gets processed and transformed in bizarre ways.

Same with Manchurian Candidate. The sci-fi brainwashing is reflected so strongly in the more “natural” power plays going on between the Angela Landsbury character and her two men, her husband and son. The sci-fi is a parallel demonstration of real pyschological issues. The family dynamics are escalated in the political dynamics and both ultimately conflated with the sci-fi brainwashing.

To the brain, the body is a disgusting alien; to the body, the brain is no less alien. Sci-fi & horror always dramatizing that discord.




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