Symphony No. 107 – The Bard: cacophonous improvisational music reflecting the chaos and lack of purpose in modern Western society

MEV, Symphony No. 107 – The Bard, Australia, Black Truffle Records, BT104 vinyl LP (2023)

Surprise, surprise, Black Truffle master chef Oren Ambrarchi has uncovered a hitherto unreleased archival recording made by the improvising trio MEV (Musica Elettronica Viva) at a concert they gave in Bard College, New York, in 2012. Originally founded in Rome in 1966 by American expat musicians, MEV had a fluid line-up of several members in its early years but by 2012, the year this recording was made, MEV consisted of three founding members: Alvin Curran, Frederic Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum. Of these three, Alvin Curran is the sole survivor, Teitelbaum having passed away in 2020 and Rzewski in 2021.

On the two tracks featured here, each MEV member pursues his particular path, Teitelbaum messing with synths, Curran concentrating on cut-up samples and Rzewski working on prepared piano. No matter that each musician is following his own musical journey, the sounds they make end up intertwined even as they travel in parallel. The first track starts quietly, even delicately, but builds up in a seesaw way as a droning harmonica oversees a wheezy nauseous orchestral set-up and a wooden object is being scraped and maybe peeled of its shavings. In its last five or six minutes the track becomes a cantankerous beast of fragmented piano melodies and noisy samples. Track II is a much more skittery piece with samples, odd noises and disorderly plink-plonk piano tune fragments. Blaring trumpet and other orchestral noises, samples of hip hop music and Hollywood movie dialogue, demented piano playing and various electronic effects make for a soundtrack that replicates the cacophony and meaninglessness of modern life in a post-modern world. In the last four minutes of the track, a sampled voice repeating “protest and the good of the world” plays over and over, among other spoken word samples, as if to remind audiences that MEV stood for more than just the freedom to play improvised, unstructured music.

For those unfamiliar with the work of MEV, this album is certainly an eye-opener, or rather an ear-opener as it assails your senses with music that frequently sounds very absurdist, calling our attention to the nature of a society that, in its greed for more profit and more material trinkets, comes to have no apparent purpose other than to lurch from one short-term sensation to another and stealing, exploiting and destroying lands and resources belonging to others while doing so.

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