Last Things   CB0001

The music

Last Things, for bass clarinet, pedal steel guitar, piano, and electronic keyboards, was written for clarinetist Marty Walker in 1987, and has been subsequently performed (as a piece for bass clarinet and tape) by Walker at concerts across the U.S. Somewhat a rhapsodic call and response between bass clarinet and pedal steel guitar, it is constructed of seven connected sections (or songs) that over the length of the piece slowly build in intensity. As the piece progresses, each section expands in length from the one previous and the bass clarinet’s tessitura or average pitch range tends to rise as it embraces stylistic extremes of vibrato and timbre. Beneath the bass clarinet and pedal steel guitar cycle two expanding sets of harmonies, one played on electronic keyboards and the other on piano.

The Copy of the Drawing was composed in 1992 and first presented at the SCREAM Festival in Los Angeles, and subsequently at the Cal Arts New Music Festival and elsewhere. A sectional, non-dramatic, serpentine soundscape charged with a certain abstract mysteriousness—it overlays, chains, and weaves a whispering voice with strands of nonverbal, pitched sound. The text is built of fragments—sentences, phrases, and individual words—from twenty-three letters addressed to the scientists at Mt. Wilson Observatory between 1915 and 1935 (these letters are collected in the book No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again, edited by Sarah Simons, published by The Museum of Jurassic Technology, Los Angeles). The original letters offer intensely personal, often quixotic theories, thoughts, and mysterious revelations on a variety of topics, especially astronomical, cosmological, and theological issues.

The composer and performers

Jim Fox is a Los Angeles-based composer whose music has been commissioned and performed by groups and soloists throughout the U.S. and presented at the Monday Evening Concerts, New Music America, Real Art Ways, Wires, the SCREAM Festival, the CalArts Contemporary Music Festival, Podewil, the Ventura Chamber Music Festival, L.A.C.E., and many similar venues. He has also scored feature films. His music, which has been described by critics as both “austere” and “sensuous,” has been recorded on the Advance, Cold Blue, Grenadilla, Raptoria Caam, Citadel, and CRI labels and published in such anthologies as Soundings and Scores. In the early eighties, he founded Cold Blue Records. (He restarted Cold Blue at the end of 2000.) 

Marty Walker is a clarinetist who specializes in the performance new music. (He has premiered more than 80 works written especially for him.) Among the labels for which he has recorded are Cold Blue, CRI, O.O.Discs, Tzadik, Grenadilla, Echograph, New World, and Rastacan. Walker has toured and recorded with various new-music ensembles, including the California E.A.R. Unit (the in-residence ensemble at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), the Robin Cox Ensemble, Some Over History, eXindigo, Viklarbo, and Ghost Duo. As a soloist, he has presented live radio concerts on NPR, Pacifica, and other radio venues and has performed at numerous new music festivals, including New Music America (Miami and Houston), the International Festival of New Music (Los Angeles), and New Music International (Mexico City), and noted new music venues, including Real Art Ways, FaultLines, the Monday Evening Concerts, and Wires. The Los Angeles Times called Walker’s playing “masterfully expressive;” El Nacional (Mexico City) wrote that his playing “took the audience to another musical dimension;” and Option magazine called him “one of the finest new-music clarinetists in the country.” Cold Blue has released two CDs by Walker: Dancing on Water (CB0005) and Adams/Cox/Fink/Fox (CB0009), and he has appeared on a number of other Cold Blue releases. 21st Century Music magazine wrote of Adams/Cox/Fink/Fox: “If people are best known by the company they keep, then clarinetist Marty Walker is blessed indeed. He keeps wonderful company with an excellent series of composers…. [B]oth the playing and the recording quality are sparkling.”

“Marty Walker traverses a special world of sound just off the radar of traditional instrument usage, exploring and savoring the secret passageways tucked into the bass clarinet.” —Josef Woodard


“An austere, ethereal experience.”The Wire magazine

“Suffused with a beautiful sadness…a quietly powerful atmosphere…it compelled me to pay close attention…. I recommend this CD with enthusiasm.” —Fanfare magazine

“[S]ounds that seem to echo across a timeless void. Imagine a view of the sky on a brilliantly clear night, from an uninhabited part of the world: Fox’s music invites one to believe that if the stars, constellations and galaxies emitted sounds, these unearthly harmonics are what one might hear.” —International Record Review

“‘Hypnotic’ is a word often used as a euphemism for ‘sleep-inducing,’ but if you sleep through The Copy of the Drawing, you will miss some chillingly beautiful atmospheres. Very impressive stuff!” —ClassicalNet

“Cosmological and theological questions enter the listener’s ear as if uttered by one’s lover while soundscapes build an uncertain atmosphere that wavers between cosmic void and ghostly presence. Strangely enticing…intimate, soft, fragmented…. Fox achieves an impressive balance between delicate and troubled.” —All-Music Guide

“Most evocative and atmospheric…. The tenor and spirit of this composition may be likened to those of Budd and perhaps Brian Eno…. It shares with them a mysterious quality and a gentle, soothing character. The otherworldly nature of the piece is heightened by almost whispered readings by Janyce Collins…. [T]he work is dreamlike, seemingly without beginning or end…. It appears to exist outside of the realm of time. —Dean Suzuki, San Francisco Bay Guardian

“Wonderful music of the night, suffused with air, light, and darkness. It’s all more than enough to make this the disc of the year.” —Blow Up magazine (Italy)

“[S]low-moving, implicatory, atmospheric and deliciously disturbing…. Like floodwater in the night…. [W]ith a beautifully cool eroticism…Collins’ voice remains uniformly glacial whatever the content of her script. Still, anxiety and revelation are blended throughout…. Covertly, Fox seems to be attempting to reconcile the cosmological with the personal, as Collins’ narration of astronomers’ notes seem to take on revealingly intimate suggestions and to equate the paths of cosmic debris with those of people…. With Last Things itself, the sky is lowering…. Trapped between stooping sky and unquiet ground, we bear witness to a passionate, wordless pieta in which the dominant instrumental voice—Marty Walker’s brilliantly tortuous bass clarinet—sounds famished: as oppressed as we are by the press of sound. Walker’s control is remarkable as he travels between delicate, near-inaudible quivers of notes, great wide splits of sound that crack with emotion, and magnificent mournful coyote calls, summoning up visions of friendless desert vistas. . . . When Last Things fades out, the hope of things resolved has given way to a kind of acceptance. We’ve come to terms with the fearsome displacement and anxiety in Fox’s California soundscapes. To such a degree that we’re likely to have failed to notice that he’s finally resolved the music with a chordal and dynamic shift so subtle as to almost escape notice—like life settling itself in, a warm beast, around the jags, harshnesses and daily warnings of a threatening environment.” —Misfit City (UK)

“Stunning work.”Incursion Music Review (Canada)

“A perfect example of music without stylistic barriers.”Deep Listenings magazine (Italy)

“One of the striking qualities of Jim Fox’s compositions is that you can still hear them inside you long after the music is over.” —Wadada Leo Smith

“The artist uses a wide variety of musical elements to create atmospheres full of a soft energy. The successive sonic textures, take us step by step into an unexplored terrain.” —Amazing Sounds

Last Things is deeply alluring…of beauty and lonesome melancholy. It is seductive because of its highly evocative force of bringing up the star-spangled sky over the Wilson Observatory and the outer reaches of Mojave Desert with its endlessly repeated set of slightly changing vistas.” —I Heard a Noise webzine (Romania)

“Two strong pieces make up this CD. In The Copy of the Drawing, dream-shaped, almost formless musical clouds drift about in loose structures. Sketchy skeins of electronics add much to the color. Fox repeats semi-regular electronic figures which sound like the bass end of the inside of a piano. Collins whisper-recites.… You can only hear parts of the spoken texts here, excerpts of excerpts. No text is provided, which only highlights the hallucinatory character of the piece. In effect it’s here for atmosphere since you can’t pick out what’s being said most of the time. The words are then natural companions to the instrumental musical clouds. The whole thing is somewhat like David Behrman’s gentle electronic works, sounding half-composed, half-improvised, but even more formless and unanchored. It’s haunting, very beautiful and—perhaps inevitably—fugitive. [In Last Things], below are strong repetitive rumblings from the bass end of a piano. Above are mournful lines from the bass clarinet seem to come from an unknowable ceremony. Middle range: pedal steel, electronics and ‘glass’ guitars (whatever they are). A very resonant result comes out of all this. It sounds like something outside our world and time. The last few minutes build to a crescendo which only underscores the lamentation nature of the piece. A solid performance, restful and edgy.” —Richard Grooms, The Improvisor

“Both tracks exude an appealing sound world that is not only enveloping but haunting and rather eerie.”New Music Connoisseur magazine

“Both the title track and The Copy of the Drawing are quietly meditative…. And both tracks exude an appealing sound world that is not only enveloping but haunting and rather eerie… [E]minently worthy of exploration for those keen on ambient West Coast and downtown New York idioms.” —21st-Century Music magazine

“With Last Things, Jim Fox delivers a work of calm and inspiration, in which a voice bathed in scintillating sounds seems to whisper in our ears words from before the invention of time.” — Gérard Nicollet, Octopus (France)

The Copy of the Drawing…. Against the wash and pitch-bending by Fox, bright, tinkling synthesizer stabs reinforce the often-pensive dialogue…. Last Things…. Marty Walker’s probing woodwind voice against a reverberating structure carries with it simultaneous characteristics of gigantic but fragile proportions. These two compositions serve as a clear reminder that ambient music is often much more compelling than audio wallpaper.” —Exposé

Last Things offers one hour of expanding sonic mist via two long electro-acoustic tracks. The Copy of the Drawing features soft, female vocals whispering tidbits of beautiful mystery while multiple layers of abstract electronic leg warmers perpetually and completely unfurl in the air and hover around your body, then turn all local matter into pure energy, and set your battered spirit gently afloat into a universe-sized vat of imaginary dark chocolate.”—Arcane Candy

The copy of the drawing…. Janyce Collins whispers, as if reading love letters, confidences, giving us sweetly bewildering extracts from No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again: Letters to Mt. Wilson Observatory 1915 – 1935, letters that combine observations, reflections, and cosmological, mystical, and symbolic meditations sent to the observatory’s astronomers by various people. The correspondents often claim to have made extraordinary discoveries, insisting that they be heard and be taken seriously, and in this way they are indeed love letters that seek to insinuate into us, to convince us, to bewitch us…. Fox dresses these fragments in his mysterious electronic music…timeless electronic poems. This music, which expands like the universe, could last for hours. Sound materials are in constant metamorphosis, expressing an indescribable odyssey, underground and mad in interpretative delirium, piling enigma on enigma. Spiraling synthetic pads, icy percussion, metallic, distant echoes; sounds appear and disappear, suggesting another world—immemorial, unknown, fascinating, ours. Through barely audible fragments, the listener is captivated, hanging on the lips of an ethereal creature, driven as in a ritual, slowly drifting in space. ‘The mysteries of attraction, gravity is felt….’ One might say Last things…is a ‘cloud’ composition, as if one was inside cloud formations and deformations. There the sounds are multiplied, whirled, echoed, creating a dark soundscape of random currents structured by powerful bass clarinet burts…breathing inside a secretly stormy sphere. A disk outside of time, letting itself drift….”—Inactuelles: Musiques Singulieres (France)

The Copy of the Drawing is a strange electronic world in which one of the elements is a reading of excerpts from strange letters written to an observatory. It’s a great atmosphere, a night music, a huge expanse of dark, empty sky. Last Things is deep and dark, moody and dreamlike, a geologically paced call-and-response between bass clarinet and pedal steel guitar, with a kind of basso profundo on the low end of the piano. As the music cycles, we are surely in a profound world. When all elements finally come together at the very end, it is an astounding musical pay-off, as dramatic as the last chords of a Beethoven symphony, but in a whole other world of understatement and subtlety.” —Carl Stone

“This is music that sounds like it was made in California—not the California of celluloid freeway madness, but rather that California of cool northern beaches or the Mojave Desert as seen in the stark intimacy of Joshua Tree or even the remembered despair of the landscape around Donner Pass. This is a music of honesty, seductive and delicate yet strong and dark.” — Daniel Lentz