Composer Robert Honstein releases his third recording with New Focus (follow ups to FCR146 Re: You and FCR202 An Economy of Means), this time featuring percussion trio Tigue, cello and percussion duo New Morse Code, and percussionist Michael Compitello.
Liner notes from Doyle Armbrust:
The sepulchral secret that no best-selling parenting book, well-intentioned prenatal physician, or so-called best friend will divulge as one enters parenthood is: a fateful day will soon arrive when finding a children’s book or film that doesn’t suck becomes an impossibility. Look, I agree with you that The Neverending Story, The Goonies, and The Dark Crystal are maybe the three greatest movies ever made, but when one of them is on rotation number seventeen and the kid hasn’t even reached their third birthday, one begins to realize the necessity of diligent rationing, given the paucity of satisfying options.
More specifically, I’m talking about a book or film that isn’t condescending to both you and your child. This is what makes the Hayao Miyazak-directed Studio Ghibli movies so exceptional – the Choco Taco to Disney's frostbitten green popsicle on this particular ice cream truck we call life, if you will.
By this point you may be wondering whether or not you’ve accidentally started streaming some variation on Baby’s First Ferneyhough or whatever. No, Robert Honstein’s Lost and Found is not a record promising to balloon grey matter in children, but among many other things, it is a convincing reconstitution of life before adulting, as poured through the twin sieves of imperfect memory and an astonishing organization of sounds. It contains all the potency of a scent memory, an experience far more eloquent and persuasive than anything that mottled cardboard box of self-labeled VHS’s in the basement can provide.
Where was I? Right, Miyazaki.
There is something about the way his films capture the now-distant sensations of first exiting the perimeter of parental influence and sanctuary, the whimsy and promise of a halcyon summer’s day, or the body shock accompanying a sudden encounter with an uninvited guest. The sheer virtuosity of these moving paintings is key, too, bridging the ossifying adult brain and the perma-fascination of youth. The indomitability of children in the face of tyranny and the consequences of human disregard for nature are the recurring engines powering each plot, though unlike so many children’s books These Days™, “the lesson” isn’t served up with the persistence of a pop-up ad.
This Amazon verified-purchase review of the Studio Ghibli box set is going great, by the way. Thanks for asking!
Our admittedly circuitous path culminates here: capturing the amplitude of wonder and confusion and delight of our early years with any sophistication or authenticity is exceedingly difficult. Just pay attention to the face on the short-stack in front of you the next time you find yourself saying, “When I was a kid…” What Robert has captured, and these exceptional performer-commissioners have amplified so persuasively, is an evocation of a state of being that requires something more than language. There’s also something more to it than his inclusion of recognizable touchstones, say, sparkling bells or do-re-mi incantations. You’ll feel it…like Proust with his Oreo, or whatever.
While, intellectually at least, I understand that these are not simply pieces about being a kid, I find myself funneling back down that particular waterslide with each listen. So with that, it’s time to say some words about the music as performed, with Miyazaki as lifeguard, signaling the all-clear on his whistle before sending us plummeting into the maw of each brightly-colored tube.
AN INDEX OF POSSIBILITY
Ponyo (2008): the denouement in which our adorable protagonist kisses Sōsuke in her final revolution between thaumaturgic goldfish and human child.
Perhaps it's the scraping of a flower pot – the one that ushers in the first and final moments of this three-hander – that gives the impression of being able to see the sound in addition to hearing it, but whatever the catalyst, An Index of Possibility lives in a spiral shape in my head. The ritornello of melodic bells feels less like a return and more like the unveiling of an alternate, though unmistakably parallel path. The gentle embrace of “Repose,” itself a construct of cycles, is pure…well…midsummer sunlight escaping earthward through the canopy of elms that shelter my hammock, a place where books and a pillow offer a perfect amnesia from middle school worries.
It is almost indelible, this memory, and yet just like Index, it assumes tiny perceptual alterations each time it surfaces.
“Flicker'' splits the drowsy summer air with a jolting crack of thunder, but shock quickly transitions into curiosity as these sharp claps present satisfying waypoints amidst a vista of increasingly ecstatic tremolo. An evolution appears with “Flow,” as though thunder’s unanticipated gift of rhythm has been acknowledged and then translated into a more terrestrial lexicon. TIGUE's trio of mallet-weilders wear their exceptional execution lightly as they vault across the sneakily precarious, borderline obsessive game unspooling before them – one in which the rules are precise, but determined in real-time during play.
The second revolution on this contracting spiral places us in view of the melody’s now vaporous-looking twin before climaxing in a celebratory transformation from game to costumed ritual. The once-simple mallets are now intricately carved and aflame, thrown upwards in wide, looping arcs before tumbling earthward as the ceremony reaches peak vibrational frenzy.
Only the familiar bells of “Repose” remain, once a memory of sunlight and serenity, tilted ever so slightly toward deeper hues.
DOWN DOWN BABY
My Neighbor Totoro (1988): The rain-soaked, heart-tugging moment in which the 10-year-old Satsuki offers her absent father’s umbrella to her new friend Totoro.
A swirling effect provides an escape to a less troubled past in Down Down Baby, but less editorializing and tenuous metaphors on my part are needed here, as the front materials in the score explicitly state an intention to recreate the exuberant clapping games of the playground. A traveling cello resonance circumnavigates one’s headphones in this gripping display of timbral transformation – yet another coronation of the cello as divine sovereign over all stringed instruments, but one that this mortal violist nevertheless endorses – and a steady, perpetual subdivision is all that frames the affair, rhythmically.
The intimacy that permeates these movements – compellingly contradicted by being so visually “on display” – is what lingers long after the piece concludes. Singing is an act of vulnerability for many of us, and a sign of trust between friends. The intricate movements required in approaching the shared instrument (cello) at an often quicksilver pace exposes sibling-level familiarity, found only amongst those that have together survived the monotony of cross-country car travel or days-long, Dorito-fueled Lego builds.
“Strange Dance,” the album’s irrefutable single and incomparable banger, plays like the experimental dueling that might logically follow the unboxing of a long-awaited sequencer. Warped by sliding fingers, buoyant pizzicato interjections bend time as well, trailing off like questions before being shepherded back guiltily to the beat.
The expertise necessary to write a piece that magnifies the abilities of these two unique performers while capturing the intimacy unique to the chamber music realm is significant. It is a rare invitation into a universe in which joy is rubber to self-conscious-ness’s glue, and friendship always prevails.
LOST AND FOUND
Spirited Away (2001): The breathtaking beauty of the hand-drawn animation as the mighty dragon Haku is cut down by a swarm of delicate paper ghosts.
Try to imagine Spirited Away in the hands of literally any other animation artists. I can’t. Like Atreyu’s beloved steed succumbing to the swap sadness (callback!), watching Haku brought to the brink of death ought to be covered by all major health insurance plans. No deductible.
The painting is every bit as responsible for the potency of this scene as the story, if not more so. These peerless animators create a kind of dance mortale, simultaneously graceful and devastating, with the long torso of the beast flocked by hundreds of paper enemies snaked in a dazzling helix. Then, they turn in unison to deliver their fusillade, unzipping the dragon’s flesh and prompting us to yell at the screen in protest.
With Lost and Found, the composer and the soloist elevate sound to this plane. While the piece begins with sounds encountered previously on this record, my attention whips toward the long-range melodic arcs that define this music. Yes, the marimba’s characteristic resonance shares responsibility, but just listen to how far out on the horizon these lines travel. From the comforting undulations of “Half Asleep,” through the swinging mid-century French game show soundtrack of “Shakedown,” to the wistful curtain descent of “Coda,” the writing enchants because the crayon (purple, if you like) is never lifted during the creation of each successive vignette nor between them before we are presented with the finality of an honest-to-goodness, tonal cadence.
Mike Compitello’s scene painting deserves a commendation now, before we cocoon ourselves in towels and depart this water park. His foregrounding and backgrounding of voices is so seamless, so sculptural, that just as with great animation, the medium disappears and all that remains is sensation.
– Doyle Armbrust
released March 24, 2023
An Index of Possibility, tracks 1–5
Recorded by Tigue: Matt Evans, Amy Garapic and Carson Moody
Engineered, edited, and mixed by Ryan Streber January–August, 2014, Oktaven Audio, Yonkers, NY
Additional editing by Hansdale Hsu
Down Down Baby, tracks 6–11
Recorded by New Morse Code: Hannah Collins, cello; Michael Compitello, percussion
Engineered, edited, mixed by Ryan Streber January–September, 2017 and November, 2021, Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY
Additional editing by Charles Mueller
Lost and Found, tracks 12–18
Recorded by Michael Compitello, percussion
Produced by Doug Perkins
Engineered by Stephen Shirk
Edited and mixed by Patrick Burns June 2020 through March 2022, Shirk Studios, Chicago, IL
Additional producing by Doug Perkins
Mastering by Ryan Streber
Design by Grey Studio
Photography: Stills from Lost and Found, Four/Ten Media
Liner Notes by Doyle Armbrust
New Focus Recordings is an artist led collective label featuring releases in contemporary music of many stripes, as well as
new approaches to older repertoire. The label was founded by guitarist Daniel Lippel (who is the current director), composer engineer Ryan Streber, and composer Peter Gilbert in 2003-4, and features releases from many of new music's most active performers and composers....more
Anyone experiencing this live must've been the luckiest people on the planet that day. This is simply phenomenal. And hope to see more some day. Thanks Michael and COA for this crazy good production. DancingPlant