Bridges of Pearl and Dust   CB0057

The music

Bridges of Pearl and Dust (2011) iscomplex, luminous, virtuosic music for four vibraphones. Polyrhythmic and contrapuntal, it rings out with both inevitability and surprise as it moves through a series of beautiful harmonies. Its ever-busy, continuous activity seems also to share space with a distinct sense of motionlessness. The composer writes, “With its tightly interwoven texture . . . Bridges of Pearl and Dust is a music about one thing: It points toward a musical experience in the present tense; the burden of anticipation is lifted, and drama, along with its potential for surprise, is abandoned.” For this recording, L.A. percussionist-composer Ben Phelps performs all four vibraphone parts.

This release is part of Cold Blue Music’s series of CD singles (begun in the early 1980s with a series of vinyl EPs)—one-course musical meals that are fully satisfying by themselves. The press has taken note of this series: “Cold Blue Music’s singles [are] a medium that the label does better than everyone else. . . . The idea is to offer a single work and to let it stand on its own, rather than making it share space with other music, and perhaps diminishing its impact on the listener. Less is more, Cold Blue Music seems to say. . . . It’s nice to know that not everything needs to be stretched or padded, and that a 20-minute work can be sufficient unto itself.” (Fanfare magazine) “Cold Blue . . . not only puts out albums with a unified profile but also makes use of the much-neglected, much-needed CD single format.” (Los Angeles Times) “Cold Blue’s series of CD singles is an extremely welcome and refreshingly daring experiment . . . and for this they deserve a great deal of credit.” (Sequenza21) “One of the most exciting innovations in the recording and marketing of modern composition . . . [is] Cold Blue Music’s series of ‘singles’—a new, minimalist or post-minimalist work . . . premiered on its own disc in the label’s usual beautiful packaging.” (Igloo Magazine)

The composer

Michael Byron‘s music tends to be harmonically rich, rhythmically detailed, and extremely virtuosic. It is often praised for its ability to create uniquely dense constructions out of relatively limited materials: “Byron creates maximalist effect out of minimalist means.” (ClassicalNet) “One is reminded . . . of the mobiles of Alexander Calder, which are both fixed and moving. And, like Calder’s work, Byron’s music is immediately comprehensible and beautiful, while it remains experimental.” (San Francisco Bay Guardian) “Byron’s music, like Ligeti’s, is instantly recognizable, perceptually challenging, beautifully proportioned and deeply satisfying.” (Paris Transatlantic)

Los Angeles–born Byron’s life as a composer began to take shape in 1971, when his path crossed those of composers James Tenney, Richard Teitelbaum, Peter Garland, and Harold Budd, all of whom would become his lifelong musical friends. In 1973, he cofounded, with David Rosenboom and Jackie Humbert, the Toronto-based multidisciplinary performance art group Maple Sugar. A few years later, he moved to New York City, where he worked on the periphery of the art rock/punk/noise music scene, performing in new music clubs with Rhys Chatham and others. At the same time, he was frequently engaged as a copyist and editor on projects for La Monte Young, Robert Ashley, and others. During the 1970s, Byron edited and published three volumes of Pieces, a journal of scores (including works by Budd, Ashley, Marion Brown, Philip Corner, Garland, Lou Harrison, Daniel Lentz, Alvin Lucier, and others), and edited Journal of Experimental Aesthetics. Byron’s music has been performed and recorded by such notable musicians as Sarah Cahill, Joseph Kubera, William Winant, FLUX Quartet, Kathleen Supové, Thomas Buckner, and other new-music champions. Recordings of Byron’s music have been released by Cold Blue Music (appearing on six previous Cold Blue CDs: CB0054, CB0043, CB0012, CB0008, CB0005, and CB0003), New World Records, Poon Village Records, Art into Life, Neutral Records, Tellus, Meridian Records, and Koch Records. He lives with his wife, poet Anne Tardos, in New York City. (

“[Byron is] one of those contemporary composers who can justifiably be classed as crucial” (Julian Cowley, The Wire) “Byron’s music dances with tremulous iridescence.” (Julian Cowley, The Wire) “Byron’s music . . . can sway in the direction of shimmering minimalism, or turn to a more rigorous and near-frantic method of composition. Hot and cold, high and low.” (Incursion Music Review)

The performer

Ben Phelps is a Los Angeles–based composer, percussionist, and new-music advocate whose work has been called “impressive” (Los Angeles Times) and “enchanting” (LA Weekly). He is a managing director of the new-music event and performance collective What’s Next? and founder of the B Band ensemble. As a percussionist—whom the Huffpost called “a magician of the marimba”—he has performed and collaborated with many composers and new-music performers, including Steve Reich, Thomas Adès, Michael Gordon, and John Adams. In addition to his work in new music, he has traveled the world as an assistant conductor for Lord of the Rings Live (score performed live with the film), and his orchestration of Nino Rota’s ballet La Strada is in repertoire at the Gärtnerplatztheater (Munich).


“The various rhythms working at the same time provide a fine sound color…. I would not have minded if this was twice as long…. This is lovely work!” —Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly

“Often enough you hear a shading of New Music with a hint of the trajectory of Avant Jazz in Byron’s works, and that is so here. It is a series of multi-articulated rigorously notated arpeggiated interlocking rootsy tonal-diatonic lines that have a modal-pentatonic base implication, but not strictly in some formulaic way. The music switches pitch centers now and again to keep ultra-fresh and in the end it all makes wonderfully perfect sense. The 15-minute span is just about right—so you go away revived and immersed. Good music. Listen.” —Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review