Three Dawns and Bush Radio Calling   CB0059

The music

Two exuberant, beautiful solo piano pieces—the three-movement Three Dawns, loosely based on poems by Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo, and the nine-movement Bush Radio Calling, written for the experimental music-theater work Just Them Walking, by New Zealand’s avant-garde theater company Red Mole.

Composer Peter Garland writes about the music:

Three Dawns (1981–82, Santa Fe, NM) is loosely based on a set of three poems with that title by the Malagasy poet Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo (1901–1937), which I found in the book The Negritude Poets: An Anthology of Translations from the French, edited by Ellen Conroy Kennedy. The piece has had a difficult performance history due to its wide intervals and a notational problem in the first movement that has long baffled pianists. It has been revived thanks to the interest and persistence of Ron Squibbs and Jim Fox, for which I’m very grateful.

“Bush Radio Calling (1992, Island Bay, New Zealand) was composed as music for the play Just Them Walking, by Alan Brunton, who, with Sally Rodwell, founded the Red Mole theater company. My title references a network of Aboriginal radio stations operating in the Australian outback, where I had just been.”

Garland’s synopsis of the play Just Them Walking:

“The Citizens are feeling discontent. Public order and services are falling apart. They form a militia of Volunteers for self-protection, but are defeated. The Voice of Bush Radio calls to them to leave this urban decay and head to the Remote Experience Zone (REZ). To get there they have to cross the Bridge to Nowhere, after which they will arrive at the Valley of Abandoned Dreams.     Meanwhile, Dr. Mouse approaches the Princess (the Enchanting Claire) to enlist her help in tracking down Hercules, a killer dog loose in the REZ who’s spreading a deadly virus.

“Everyone departs on a steamboat going upriver to Hiruharama (the Maori name for Jerusalem, a town on New Zealand’s Wanganui River), where they are looking for Mother Aubert’s secret herbal remedies. Among those on the riverboat is the El Niño Theater Company, which performs a pantomime. Other characters in this gripping drama include Ice Woman, Wild Man, the Preacher, Mrs. Shadrock, the Witness, the General, the Wedding Guests, and the Chorus of Undertakers. (All of this with a cast of three, plus the pianist—me.)

“Finally they arrive at the Bridge to Nowhere and, as they cross it, the play ends in an apotheosis of ecstasy.

“Make sense? All of this was based on real places and people: in Red Mole reality, fact was always stranger than fiction.”

The composer

Peter Garland is a composer, world traveler, musicologist, writer, and former publisher (Soundings Press) whose music is always informed by his well-traveled ear and strong sense of personal vision. He studied music composition with Harold Budd and James Tenney and maintained long friendships with Lou Harrison, Conlon Nancarrow, Paul Bowles, and Dane Rudhyar. As a musicologist, he has primarily focused on Native American, Mexican, and Southwestern American musics and 20th-century experimental composers of the Americas, championing the work of such composers as Revueltas, Partch, Nancarrow, and others long before their music became fashionable and regularly programmed.

Since the early 1970s, Garland’s own music has been marked by a return to a “radical consonance” and a simplification of formal structure influenced by Cage, Harrison, early minimalism, and a great variety of world musics. His unique and highly engaging pieces have been performed around the world by such noted performers as pianists Aki Takahashi, William Winant, Herbert Henck, and Sarah Cahill; accordionist Guy Klucevsek; and the Kronos Quartet and released on the Cold Blue, Tzadik, New Albion, Mode, Avant, Toshiba-EMI/Angel, and other labels. Garland’s music has appeared on seven previous Cold Blue CDs, including Moon Viewing Music (Inscrutable Stillness Studies #1) (CB0052), After the Wars (CB0044), and String Quartets (CB0031), as well as on four of the label’s anthologies (CB0036, CB0014, CB0008, and CB0005).

“Garland’s music seems to be about the sheer expressive power of sound itself…. I feel he is one of our true originals.”—Robert Carl, Fanfare magazine

“‘Radical consonance’ has been used to describe Garland’s music…an apt choice of words.”—Fanfare magazine

“Ever his own man, Garland has moved beyond a strictly minimalist phase of evolving melodic and rhythmic patterns into a hybrid sphere of many influences from the panorama of world music, suggestive of such composers as Conlon Nancarrow and Lou Harrison.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“[Garland] is an avatar of an experimental American tradition…a composer of mesmerizing music; and in many ways, the musical conscience of my generation.”—Kyle Gann, Chamber Music magazine

 

The performer

Ron Squibbs is a pianist whose previous recordings include Dane Rudhyar: Four Pentagrams, Paeans, Granites, Prophetic Rite (Aucourant Records) and On the Keyboard: Piano Works Of Joji Yuasa (Aucourant Records). He began studying the piano with Elizabeth Mason Ginnel (a descendent of Lowell Mason) at the age of eight. His further piano studies were with Richard Gregor at the Westport School of Music and Donald Currier at Yale, where he earned a PhD in music theory. Squibbs is a leading authority on the music of Iannis Xenakis, Yuasa, and a number of other 20th– and 21st-century composers. He is currently an associate professor of music theory and associate department head of graduate studies at the University of Connecticut. “Ron Squibbs’ [Rudhyar] performances are emotional and powerful” (Robert Reigle Acoustic Levitation)

Comments

“In the second movement of Beethoven’s final piano sonata, there’s a section that evolves toward what my 21st-century ears insist on calling swing, and it’s treated as such by certain players. The first section of Peter Garlands Three Dawns lives in a similar space, but it’s subtle, much like the various harmonic and motivic relationships on this disc containing two sets of Garland piano miniatures, composed a decade apart and performed with skill and grace by Ron Squibbs.

Three Dawns comprises an extended middle movement delicately flanked by two briefer ones. In listening to this evolving series of related but diverse motivic and attendant harmonic ideas, I was reminded of what trumpeter and composer Bill Dixon used to say about an excellent solo exploring a single register or problem. While Garland’s piano music is interregistral, these three movements dig deep into the various facets of a major scale. Articulation and note juxtaposition ensure that each moment embodies implications far beyond itself. The opening gesture of the third movement is a case in point. The two-tone sonority sounds as if it will involve some sort of dominant resolution, a conception just as quickly thrust aside by what follows. The central movement is an absolutely gorgeous and riveting study of palpable augmentation and diminution as the texture expands, contracts, and expands again. Line evolves into chord and back again, any sense of rhythmic stability skewed in various ways, with the unifying factor being a constantly reexamined sense of diatonicism.

“Composed in 1992, Bush Radio Calling works in even more mysterious ways from word one. Squibbs’s wonderful powers of articulation and attention to color take centerstage with “Ringatu”’s open harmonies, crafty pedal work and subtle chromaticism, more felt than heard as the terraced dynamics shock and rebound. This opening vignette is a stunning example of what can be done when, likes the proverbial loaves and fishes, very little becomes a lot through careful distribution. The quieter moments anticipate Visions of El Niño Cieguito’s multi-hued pianissimos, so redolent of the world of Messiaen’s perfumed preludes in a way that makes louder moments spring to the fore. Those shifting and palpitating harmonies prefigure, in turn, the final two pieces of the cycle, the final one ultimately harkening back to the opening as triadic harmonies expand outward, opening up to sonorities very similar to those heard at the beginning of the series.

“If all music supposedly housed under the stretched umbrella of “Minimalism” were conceived with such intuitive intelligence, more of it would sustain interest and repetition. As it is, Cold Blue just keeps moving from strength to strength, resurrecting these two heretofore neglected works by a composer whose musical vision is as pleasing as it is quietly expansive, performed to match.”—Marc Medwin, Fanfare magazine

 

“University of Connecticut professor Ron Squibbs brings a magnetic tenderness and directness to these two older solo piano works by Peter Garland, a post-minimalist composer duly celebrated for the clarity and generosity of his ideas. In his liner note essay, the composer gently indicts both himself and unnamed musicians for the spotty accounts of his 1981-82 work Three Dawns: ‘The piece has had a difficult history due to its wide intervals and a notational problem in the first movement that has long baffled pianists.’ Squibbs expertly irons out any such wrinkles, though, with a graceful touch and unerring fluidity. Three Dawns was based on three poems by the Malagasy writer Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo, and I have to assume that his poetry is both carefully considered and deceptively soothing, as the melodically rich work here both casts an enveloping spell and carries an air of the unknown.

“Garland wrote the nine-movement Bush Radio Calling for a production by the experimental New Zealand theater company Red Mole, focusing on a fantastical, sci-fi like narrative written by poet Alan Brunton based on real-life experiences. Compared with the earlier work this one is stentorian, with a halting rhythmic quality and emphatic flurries of chords rather than extended single-note melody lines—although a movement like ‘The Bellbird’s Song’ injects some lyrical repose into the proceedings.”—Peter Margasak, Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical

 

“Ipso facto, performances featuring a single performer and instrument present a composer’s work and sensibility in its purest form. Consistent with that, the two solo piano pieces performed by Ron Squibbs on this new Cold Blue release offer an untainted portrait of Peter Garland’s composing style. Long-time devotees of the label will likely be familiar with his work, given that he’s been part of eight Cold Blue releases, but for those coming to his music anew, Three Dawns and Bush Radio Calling offers a fine entry point.

“That said, these works, recorded at Mechanics Hall, Worcester, MA in August 2019 and September 2020, aren’t pure artistic expressions in the sense of having no extra-musical connections. Composed in the early ’80s, the three-movement Three Dawns is loosely based on texts by Malagasy poet Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo (1901-37), and the ten-part Bush Radio Calling, written a decade later in Island Bay, New Zealand, was created for Alan Brunton’s surreal music-theatre piece Just Them Walking as presented by the experimental theatre company Red Mole.

“Garland’s bio characterizes him as not just composer but world traveler and musicologist, and certainly the impression crystallizes through the hearing of these pieces of someone whose work is informed by a wealth of travel experiences and time spent in far-flung locales. Of course, each listener hears music through a personal lens and invests that listening with a lifetime of associations. . . . As I listen to these samplings of Garland’s music, for example, I hear the sounds of New Zealand and Australia but not the strains of North America and the United Kingdom (he was, in fact, born in 1952 in Portland, Maine). I also hear the personal expression of a composer whose music feels as grounded in the folk music of a particular people and locale as scholarly study.

“Written in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Three Dawns has had, in Garland’s own words, ‘a difficult history due to its wide intervals and a notational problem in the first movement that has long baffled pianists,’ but any such hurdles Squibbs overcomes in his gripping treatment. Two succinct parts bookend a plaintive and subtly regal central movement, the outer frames beguiling in their buoyant, sing-song character and interlacing patterns. It’s the softly chiming middle one, however, that proves most stirring in the way it slowly, gracefully, and methodically unfurls for twelve resonant minutes.

“Though the title of Bush Radio Calling refers to Aboriginal radio stations in the Australian outback, the play itself presents a surreal story-line. In the simplest of terms, Just Them Walking has citizens, directed by The Voice of Bush Radio, leaving urban blight behind for the Remote Experience Zone (REZ). Adventures ensue involving a killer dog spreading a deadly virus, a steamboat trip upriver to Hiruharama, and an on-boat pantomime performance by the El Niño Theater Company until the Bridge to Nowhere is reached and crossed. Garland himself participated in the production, which featured him as the pianist.

“One needn’t, of course, know the play details to derive listening satisfaction from the music, though awareness of them does help lend the music context. At the work’s start, ‘Ringatu (Variations on a Chord by Dane Rudyar)’ lives up to its billing in obsessively worrying over a chord, something ‘The Bridge to Nowhere’ revisits at the work’s semi-ecstatic close. Whereas a similar emphasis on block chords carries over into the aggressive second movement, ‘Visions of El Niño Doctor,’ the subsequent ‘Visions of El Niño Cieguito’ changes things up by alternating between loud and hushed episodes. A programmatic element also surfaces during ‘The Bellbird’s Song’ in chiming chords and patterns suggestive of bird vocalizations. Cumulatively, Bush Radio Calling advances like a journey down a winding river, with the trip abundant in vivid contrast and striking scenery. Perhaps the strongest compliment one might pay is to say how much hearing it makes one long to experience it as part of a newly enacted treatment of the play.”—Ron Schepper, Textura

 

Three Dawns and Bush Radio Calling is my first exposure to the work of composer Peter Garland. As an ardent lover of post-minimalist concert music, as well as sonic homages to the world’s folk storytelling traditions, I was happy to find in this piece something so thoroughly up my alley as to make me question why I hadn’t been hearing Mr. Garland’s work for years. Some cursory research reveals that he was a student of James Tenney and Harold Budd (two of my favorites), is considered by some to be an expert in the pre-colonial music of North America, and was a long-time publisher at the helm of Soundings Press, inspired by a 1971 Calarts workshop with legendary Fluxus poet and impressario Dick Higgins. A near-perfect combination of influences as far as I’m concerned! The two solo piano pieces on this disc are both at least 30 years old, are performed brilliantly by pianist Ron Squibbs, and display the deep interdisciplinary bona fides of the composer. Three Dawns (1981-82) is loosely based on a set of three poems by the early 20th century Malagasy (national language of Madagascar), poet Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo. The piece begins underpinned by a lilting swing pattern, and progresses to reveal its character as an ideal ‘post-minimal’ piece, bypassing the mid-twentieth century definition of minimalism (ala Glass, Reich et. al) and harkening more directly back to Satie. In this mode, sonorities and progressions develop patiently and on their own terms, if they can be said to develop at all. The effect is more like an imitation of an environment, and I encourage our readers to investigate Satie’s definition of ‘furniture music’ which will most accurately describe this effect. These scrutinously constructed pieces achieve a lighthearted but significant effect, evoking to me the elevated nostalgia palette of Joe Hisaishi, the principal musical collaborator to Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.

Bush Radio Calling (1992) is the product of the composer’s work with New Zealand avant-theatrical troupe the Red Mole Theater company on a play entitled Just them Walking. In contrast to Three Dawns, composed a decade earlier, Bush Radio is more urgent, and opens with the boldness of more active Romantic-Era piano staples ala Beethoven and Chopin. However, the boldness feels insistently suspended within a static pulsating harmonic orb, teasing gestures that suggest harmonic progression into something more like harmonic extensions, stabbing outwards into new four dimensional shapes, subverting the need for a ‘line.’ As he cycles through the movements, the qualities of the voicings change but the rhythmic character remains intact; an insistent openness and skittering polyrhythm invites the listener to feel the physicality and joy of playing the piano within an art-music framework that feels competently ‘folk’ in its influence. At times, it reads similarly to a solo piano reduction of Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians but with a more asymmetrical pulse as its undercurrent, and with a more disjointed, episodic vignette format as its structural mission. This is par for the course for the excellent modern classical sensibilities of Cold Blue’s catalogue, which to me represents an avant-garde less concerned with the mechanics of their experiment, than with the ultimate musicality of the results. In this case, it encompasses the full range between focused and thrilling.”—Frank Meadows, Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter

 

“Because the works that he composes often use limited materials, Peter Garland (b. 1953) sometimes is described as a Minimalist. That is misleading, if it leads you in the direction of Glass, Reich, and so on. Yes, Garland’s music uses repetition, but it combines and recombines the repeated materials in unpredictable but eminently right-seeming ways. His repetitions are on a larger scale and freer than those of other composers with whom he has been grouped. His music is like viewing a ‘white’ painted canvas from afar, only to approach it and discover that even white has shades, and that not all the brushstrokes go in the same direction. If there is a process in Garland’s music—and no one says that there needs to be one—it is never apparent to me. At the risk of stating the obvious, it is not music that the listener can tune into and out of at will. It rewards consistent attention, and if it does not receive that consistent attention, it may seem less than it actually is.

“These are new recordings of two works that are not new. If they have been recorded before, I have no record of that (so to speak). Three Dawns (1981–82) was inspired by three poems by the Malagasy poet Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo. In his booklet note, Garland notes that ‘the piece has had a difficult history due to its wide intervals and a notational problem in the first movement that has long baffled pianists.’ (As an occasional pianist, I want to know more!) Continuing, ‘It has been revived thanks to the interest and persistence of Ron Squibbs and [Cold Blue Music’s] Jim Fox, for which I’m very grateful.’ The first and last sections are short. The first is characterized by a loping rhythm, and the third is similar in its materials, albeit with the loping rhythm straightened out. The longer central section is slower and often produces the sensation of the listener being rocked back and forth, or gently pushed in a swing.

Bush Radio Calling (1992) also has literary associations. Garland composed it as incidental music for the play Just Them Walking by Alan Brunton. Garland’s synopsis suggests an absurdist epic. He writes, ‘the play ends in an apotheosis of ecstasy.’ There are nine short movements, each with an intriguing title, but don’t expect the music to align with the titles in any obvious way. As in Three Dawns, the music moves purposefully forward, sometimes stumbling, sometimes jumping ahead, sometimes repeating in an inaccurate way something else that was misheard a few moments earlier. The music fanfares, tolls, proclaims, and even drops the listener into abandoned places. The work was composed in New Zealand, and the title is an allusion to Aboriginal radio stations operating in the Australian outback. What does this all signify? Well, what do you want it to signify?

“Ron Squibbs teaches at University of Connecticut, where he is an associate professor of music theory. Other composers in his discography (Dane Rudhyar, Joji Yuasa) tell us that he does not walk a well-beaten path. Despite the ruggedness of that path, he does not put a foot wrong anywhere on this CD”—Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare magazine

 

“Peter Garland is no stranger to these pages, and especially his Moon Viewing Music (Vital Weekly 1117) is one I remember most fondly. That one was for three large gongs and a large tam-tam. This new CD contains piano music, the three-part Three Dawns and nine parts making up Bush Radio Calling. The first is ‘loosely based on poems by Jean-Joseph Raberivelo,’ and the second was ‘written for the experimental music-theatre work Just Them Walking by New Zealand’s avant-garde theatre company Red Mole.’ The title of the latter refers to a network of Aboriginal radio stations, operating in the Australian outback. There is a story behind this, which is too big to repeat. . . . Both pieces and all the parts they contain are excellent pieces of piano music; the instrument sounds traditional, even when I read that Three Dawns isn’t an easy to play piece; see, and here’s what I call my lack of expertise: I have no idea how to play the piano. I couldn’t have told you if it was difficult (or easy). The music isn’t along the lines of Erik Satie or Claude Debussy, doesn’t seem too modern, or minimal, and yet, curiously also not too traditional. It had something captivating that I discovered after repeating listening, especially some of the forceful repeated notes and chords in some parts of Bush Radio Calling, such as the first, ‘Ringatu (Variations On A Chord By Dane Rudhyar) For Alan Brunton.’ This one was for me a slow-growing beauty.”—Vital Weekly (Netherlands)

 

“A new CD of solo piano music by Peter Garland has been released on the Cold Blue Music label. Two pieces comprise the album: Three Dawns, inspired by the poetry of Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo and Bush Radio Calling, written specifically for avant-garde theater with a total of nine movements. Peter Garland is a well-known composer with deep roots in contemporary music from long association with important influences such as Lou Harrison, Harold Budd, James Tenney and Conlon Nancarrow. The performer for this album is Ron Squibbs, pianist, academic, and a leading authority on the music of Iannis Xenakis. This latest album takes us on an exotic journey of the Southern Hemisphere via Garland’s extraordinary musical inspirations.  

Three Dawns (1981-82) is a three-movement piece built around . . . the work of Malagasy poet Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo. The beginning of Movement 1 is a series of halting passages that propel it along in a comfortable, ambling gait. A nice groove develops and a strong bass line provides a solid foundation. At just 2:49, this short opening movement with sunny harmonies and a relaxed feel is like taking a quiet stroll on a summer’s day in Madagascar.  

“Movement 2 is more than twice as long as both outer movements combined and begins with a solitary string of notes in the lower registers. There is a solemn, contemplative feel to this as a warm melody enters from above. The harmony lightens and the sense of optimism builds, like the sun rising on an empty beach. The repeating theme in the bass line provides a sure foundation, anchoring the agreeable phrases heard in the upper registers. This is lovely music—thoughtful but not too precious—and yet beautifully quiet and serene. A da capo towards the finish reprises the opening, completing the circle. Movement 3 is the bookend to the first movement, with a strong bass line and choppy rhythms in the upper register. The same optimistic feelings are evident as this rocks gently to a close. Three Dawns is the perfect musical escape to tropical solace and tranquility. 

“The second piece on the CD is the nine movement Bush Radio Calling, a 1992 composition written in Island Bay, New Zealand. This music was composed for a play titled Just Them Walking produced by the Red Mole experimental theater company. . . . The play is a series of unlikely adventures populated by colorful characters who are confronted with a series of bizarre situations. After completing the score, Garland went on tour as the pianist with the Red Mole company.  

“The first movement is ‘Ringatu (Variations on a Chord by Dane Rudhyar) for Alan Brunton.’ This evokes an exotic and dramatic setting with a series of strong, chiming chords. The phrases are simple, repeating with slight variations in the harmony. The pattern also includes asymmetrical rhythms and changing dynamics. There is no melody to distract from the variations in the chord with each phrase, and this succeeds in packing a lot of expression into a minimum of musical materials. Movements 2 and 3, ‘Visions of El Niño Doctor’ and ‘Visions of El Niño Cieguito,’ respectively, are short and direct, consisting of a series of strong chords with brief silences in between. There is a vaguely Latin feel to this that adds to the overall exotic character. ‘Visions of El Niño Cieguito’ is alternately robust and subdued in the dynamics and a bit more introspective.  

“The fourth movement, ‘La Princesa (Wanganui Waltz) for Sally Rodwell,’ proceeds in halting, broken rhythms consisting of moderate chords that recall the ‘El Niño’ movements. Wanganui is the name of a river in New Zealand that is invoked in the plot as the characters continue their journey by riverboat and the music here has a sense of subdued grandeur. Movement 5, ‘The Bellbird’s Song,’ adds more color to the drama of the river passage and opens with a string of single notes in a high register with two pitches in a chattering, birdlike rhythm. The phrases repeat like a bird call but with slightly halting rhythms. New chords fill in around the bird call that are very simple at first but then a deep bass line is heard that adds a sense of majesty. A regal sound with deep, full chords ends this short movement.  

“The title of the fifth movement, ‘Hiruharama,’ is the name of a New Zealand town (and the Maori name for Jerusalem). The riverboat travelers on the Wanganui hope to find Mother Aubert’s secret herbal remedies in what is only one of the many intriguing plot twists. Four chords open this, followed by a brief silence. The chords, with slight variations in the harmony, repeat in groups of two, three, or four. Elegant and mysterious, there is again an exotic and regal feel. As the movement proceeds, the sequence of strong chords is followed by a single pianissimo chord in a high register, as if in a metaphorical dialogue of truth to power. At the finish, a series of soft, two-note chords is heard alone—truth has prevailed.

“Movement 7 features a reappearance of disjointed rhythms and bold, dynamic chords. The piano playing by Ron Squibbs here, and in all the movements, is technically exceptional and infused with human emotion that makes this music very listenable. Movement 8, ‘The Wedding (The Bride Shoots the Bachelor, Even.),’ is a complex rhythmic structure that never quite gets started or developed into a groove, but the phrases are engaging and keep the piece moving forward. The final movement, ‘Bridge to Nowhere,’ features bright chords heard in the higher registers and has a sunny, optimistic feeling. The phrases seem to repeat with slight variations, adding a bit of an alien feel that is both mysterious and open-ended. The ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ is full of luminous promise, but ultimately lives up to its name. Bush Radio Calling is an inventive and curiously singular piece, packing a lot of energy and emotion into just a piano score. Peter Garland has masterfully created a strange and romantic musical world that compliments the action of the play and brings the listener along for the journey.”—Paul Muller, Sequenza21