This playlist assembles music that has to my mind a mysterious quality to it. The tunes fall mostly outside of the pop/rock world (no hooks, choruses or words to be found,) but I’d like to think the open-minded could engage them even if the vocabulary is unfamiliar. Their unfamiliarity is what I like about them. They are tunes that have intrigued or puzzled me over the years, and that I have to check in with every so often to see how they’re doing. Let me know what you think.
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Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten—Arvo Part.
“He has put his finger on something that is almost impossible to put into words—something to do with the power of music to obliterate the rigidities of space and time,” writes Alex Ross in an article for the New Yorker. As heady as that sounds Part’s music can be very visceral and engaging, as this piece, a personal favorite, hopefully demonstrates.
Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground—Blind Willie Johnson.
Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977 with the goal of venturing further into interstellar space than anything human-made has ever gone. As strange as it seems, a gold-plated record titled “Sounds of Earth” was stowed away on each probe—just in case an extraterrestrial took an interest. Some problems needed to be solved before the launch, however. For example, how do you explain to aliens who likely speak an unimaginable language where to drop the needle while spinning the record exactly 33 1/3 revolutions per minute? And just what is an earth minute anyway? I hope E.T. deciphers the clues, as this track by Blind Willie Johnson awaits them.
Opus 132, Molto Adagio—Beethoven.
After the enormous 9th symphony, that declaration of joy and universal brotherhood, Beethoven writes a series of string quartets. The quartets will be among the last works he completes. The music is otherworldly, inward and complex. It develops in a strange and free manner and discards conventional forms. This movement is my favorite piece of his. The title translates as “Solemn Song of Thanksgiving of a Convalescent to the Deity.”
In C—Terry Riley.
This is where I may lose most of you. Considered by some to be the first work of musical minimalism, In C is built around fifty-three short musical patterns that each performer begins when they wish and repeats as long as they wish. The piece ends when all performers reach the last pattern. It develops very slowly, gradually shifting colors, textures and rhythmic patterns like the landscape on a long drive. Speaking from experience, I wouldn’t listen to this in the basement of your parent’s calm suburban home. They will think you took all the drugs.
Pound for Pound—The Bad Plus.
I rediscovered this band recently due to a timely facebook post. They can come off as tricksters with their blending of jazz, rock, pop and classical, but this piece is actually rather simple. It features a prominent melody and a slow build, and hopefully leaves you somewhat grounded if you ventured this far.
In Memory of Carl Sagan – The poet, philosopher, and astrophysicist