In the Village of Hope   CB0043

The music

In the Village of Hope is a restless (and in some ways relentless) virtuosic harp solo performed by Tasha Smith Godínez, who commissioned the work. This ever-changing, ever-churning, ever-developing music is unlike anything else in the solo harp repertoire, though not unlike some of Byron’s other recent work, such as his Book of Horizons for pianist Joseph Kubera.

Byron writes about the music:

In the Village of Hope,” a purely sentimental title, was composed at the invitation of harpist Tasha Smith Godínez. As a student of musicologist Eric Smigel, she began the task of writing a thesis on my music. After our first correspondence, we began communicating frequently. The piece was composed over a period of approximately six-months, beginning on New Year’s Day, 2013.

“It is a piece of unabashed virtuosity. Its complex temporal structure and intricate counterpoint vie for the listener’s attention. Pitch resources are limited to diatonic collections, enabling harmonic relationships to seamlessly cycle through seven contiguous key changes. With a sound reminiscent of wind chimes, it yields fields of harmonic stasis—that mysterious circumstance of individual notes diverging and merging to form a delicate fabric of sound.”

In the Village of Hope is a 23-minute CD single/EP.

The composer

Michael Byron’s music, which has appeared on four previous Cold Blue CDs, tends to be harmonically rich, rhythmically detailed, and virtuosic. It is often praised for its ability to create uniquely dense constructions out of relatively limited means: “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)

Born in Chicago and raised in Los Angeles, his life as a composer began to take shape in 1971, when his path crossed that of composer James Tenney, and what began as a student-teacher relationship grew into a long, important musical friendship. Around this same time, Byron met Richard Teitelbaum, Peter Garland, and Harold Budd, who would also become his lifelong friends. Soon thereafter, Byron encountered other influential musicians active in the West Coast new-music scene, including, in particular, Lou Harrison, Dane Rudhyar, and Robert Ashley.

Moving to Toronto in 1973, Byron cofounded, with David Rosenboom, and Jackie Humbert, the multi-disciplinary performance art group Maple Sugar, which grew to include among its members George Manupelli, Cynthia Liddell, Barbara Mayfield, Larry Polansky, William Winant, and others. A few years later, Byron moved to New York City, where he worked on the periphery of the art rock/punk/noise music scene, performing with Rhys Chatham in lower Manhattan’s new music clubs of the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the same time, he was frequently engaged as a copyist and editor on various projects for La Monte Young, Robert Ashley, Lucas Foss, and others, and he became involved with The Kitchen, where his chamber piece Tidal was premiered in 1980, with Julius Eastman conducting. In the mid 1970s, Byron edited and published three volumes of Pieces, a journal of scores (including works by such composers as Robert Ashley, Marion Brown, Harold Budd, Philip Corner, Peter Garland, Malcolm Goldstein, Lou Harrison, Daniel Lentz, Alvin Lucier, and others), and edited Journal of Experimental Aesthetics.

Byron’s scores are published by Frog Peak Music. Recordings of his music have been released by Cold Blue Music (his music has appeared on four previous Cold Blue CDs, including two that are devoted solely to his music), 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. 

“Michael Byron’s music…can sway in the direction of shimmering minimalism, or turn to a more rigorous and near-frantic method of composition…. Truly bewitching…an intriguing mix of tranquillity and restlessness, hot and cold, highs and lows.” —Incursion Music Review

“There is a dark allure to Michael Byron’s music, a seductive otherness that leads, through fascination, to a gently disturbing ambiguity of emotion.” —Dusted magazine

The performer

Harpist Tasha Smith Godínez, who debuted as a soloist at age 16, earned a bachelor’s degree in harp from San Diego State University, where she studied with Elena Mashkovtseva. She subsequently studied with renowned harpist Isabelle Perrin at L‘École Normale de Musique de Paris, receiving that institution’s equivalent of a master’s degree. Returning to UCSD, she received master’s degree in harp there as well. She has also studied with noted new-music harpist Susan Allen.

Smith Godínez performs frequently as a soloist and chamber musician and often plays with the Orquesta de Baja California (Tijuana) and the Grossmont Symphony (San Diego). She has performed throughout Europe, the United States, and Mexico. In addition to Byron’s In the Village of Hope, her recent projects include the commissioning of a solo harp suite by Argentine composer Andrés Martin.


In the Village of Hope simultaneously lulls and rouses the listener with elegantly cascading counterpoint and lush harmonies animated by complex rhythms. Its kaleidoscopic variations evoke ethereal wind chimes, rendering both the calm and the storm in a single gesture.”—Eric Smigel, author of James Tenney (Univ. of Illinois Press)

“Michael Byron and Cold Blue Music have released a new CD of gorgeous music for the solo harp, commissioned and performed by Tasha Smith Godínez. In the Village of Hope contains a single 22-minute track that unfolds with such delicacy and grace that an hour of it would not seem too much…. In the Village of Hope opens with a quiet serenity, full of sound, but gentle as a summer rainfall. The tempo picks up almost imperceptibly and we are soon awash in a lovely counterpoint that infuses the harmonies with a steady propulsive energy. The rhythm is constant, with a fluid feel that ebbs and flows in complex patterns that weave a tapestry of sound. There is no progression or sense of harmonic movement except when a key change occurs—and there are several of these—then a new set of tones takes up in the same manner as previously. The texture and density have an appealing consistency throughout. Towards the finish the tempo slows and the sound becomes quieter as the final notes slowly expire. Listening to this piece is like watching the sun slip slowly over the horizon as it illuminates the sky in ever-changing colors and shades.

“This music is perfectly suited to the harp providing just the right timbre for the complexity and hopefulness that are combined in this piece. There is an exotic and idealistic feeling to In the Village of Hope that is beautifully drawn out by the playing of Ms. Godínez, who negotiates the 22-minute shower of notes with assurance and perfect command of her instrument. This is an impressive work, both in concept and performance—In the Village of Hope perfectly captures the optimism and tranquility that seems so elusive in our busy lives.” —Paul Muller, Sequenza21

“Godinez plays with great virtuosity and much of the time it sounds like I am hearing multiple harp sounds at the same time…. This is indeed all very minimal since it hardly changes, but there is also a multitude of sounds to be heard—hence: maximalist. Somehow I always find the harp to be posses a particular sweet sound and this work seems to be not different. I quite enjoyed the mellow, sweet music a lot on this beautiful summer day.” —Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly (Netherlands)

“Michael Byron composes in a radical tonality realm, producing music that has a sort of natural, processual feel to it…. In the Village of Hope [is]…a single-movement work for solo harp lasting some twenty-odd minutes. Tasha Smith Godinez performs the work with distinction. There are dual contrapuntal parts that continue throughout, in diatonic and sometimes pentatonic modes. The rhythmic, nature-inspired complexity of the two parts working together…is organic and endlessly fascinating. The two-part complexities are drawn towards cascading, infinitely variable rhythmic co-incidences that work together like the patter of rain on two different roofs. There is no overt synchronization; the diatonic-pentatonic patterns of notes play against each other in an infinitely variable way, modulating to a new key center now and again, but consistently irregular in ways the listener follows with a continual search for geometric ratios but finding them too complex to assimilate into a simple gestalt. And that in great part is where lies the charm and fascination for the listener, if not also for the sheer sensuality of the asymmetric pitch co-incidences. The brevity of the work leaves you with just enough to convey an acoustic impression and a mood of tranquility and hopefulness. The sound of the harp has those sorts of connotations, at least for me, and the music does much to reinforce and underscore a peaceful yet dynamic experience. In the end Michael Byron gives us a very satisfying work, a living, breathing cornucopia, a significant brush with music-as-nature, beyond the usual human restructuring. It is a delightful listen that I gain something from each time I hear it. If you are open to a new adventure in sound, this will doubtless provide you with much pleasure as well.” —Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

In the Village of Hope…tends to stretch all the preconceived notions and limits about the instrument…. It is seemingly amorphous at the surface, but the deeper and more attentive the listener dwells, the random nature of the piece reveals itself to be pure genius at the compositional level, and unbridled virtuosity in the performance. The sound may remind of wind chimes in the lead-up to a storm, with the notes of the harp sparkling and churning and seemingly finding no resting place, some louder and others softer, creating a textural soundworld that the notes exists within. Truly beautiful and mesmerizing.”—Exposé

“Michael Byron’s music has appeared on several other Cold Blue Music releases, many of them reviewed by me here or somewhere else. Originally categorized as a minimalist, he has composed music over most of his career—he was born in 1953—that more accurately might be described as maximalist, because it is in a state of constant and often rapid flux. In the Village of Hope is a gruelingly virtuosic work that, on this disc, is played by the harpist who commissioned it. Once it has been set in motion—definitely rotary, not linear—it neither speeds up nor slows down, but continues flinging its notes at the listener for its entire 22-minute length. You won’t be able to tap your feet to it, because it exists in a world of its own rhythms. (Imagine wind chimes.) You won’t be able to pinpoint its harmonies, although there are several points in this work where one feels the music’s tonal center suddenly shift up or down. You won’t be able to whistle its melodies, because there are none, in the traditional sense. In the Village of Hope sounds like the kind of music a harp might play on itself, for itself, and by itself—who needs those humans, and their boring subjectivity?

“This was recorded over the course of two days, and I defy you to identify where the edits are, because this is seamless music. I suspect that the amazing Tasha Smith Godínez has a vertical slot in her back where a key goes in. One associates the harp with angelic matters, and while In the Village of Hope doesn’t confound that association, this is a heaven that is far from being regular and predictable, and where one is ruled not by immutable Bible truths but by the constant fluctuations of the natural world. This is very pretty listening, and, as such, recommendable.”—Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare magazine

“Reaffirming its status as one of the most exciting innovations in the recording and marketing of modern composition since the introduction of magnetic tape, Cold Blue Music‘s series of “singles”—a new, minimalist or post-minimalist work rarely longer than twenty minutes, premiered on its own disc in the label’s usual beautiful packaging—issues three new gems…. First, the evanescent wind chime orientalism of Michael Byron‘s In the Village of Hope, played by Tasha Smith Godínez on the harp, conveys a train schedule of emotions.”—Stephen Fruitman, Igloo Magazine

“Harp notes trickling and tumbling like eddies in a stream; pianistic shell bursts interspersed with wounded reflection; chromium dreamscapes seeping out from resonant metal sculptures and steel guitars. In terms of style and content there’s little overlap in the music on these three new releases from the Californian label Cold Blue. Yet each emerges from a recognizable and distinctly American compositional outlook, sensual and approachable while also robustly individualistic and aesthetically self-determining…. Michael Byron has compared In The Village of Hope to the play of wind chimes, an image that not only suggests the range of timbres elicited by harpist Tasha Smith Godinez, but also fits the character of a piece that seems to occupy its own space while some animating spirit runs through it…. Each of these three pieces lasts a little over 20 minutes and is issued by Cold Blue in the form of a CD single. Each lodges in the memory as sensation, rather than as realized idea or abstractable form, and the concise format suits that aspect of the music perfectly.”—Julien Cowley, The Wire magazine

“In recent years, Cold Blue has issued as many singles (EPs, if you prefer) as full-length recordings, but the label’s releases, regardless of format or length, are always of the highest quality, and these new singles by three Cold Blue artists of long-standing are no exception in that regard…. In the Village of Hope is a single-movement affair….Byron’s setting features a single instrument only, in this case harp. Performed by Tasha Smith Godínez (who also commissioned the piece), the material unspools across twenty-three minutes as a sparkling, ever-evolving organism of interlocking design. Godínez weaves contrapuntal patterns into intricate latticeworks that lull one into a state of reverie until regulated key changes, each one arising about every two minutes or so, snap one back to attention…. The harp never loses its distinct definition and defining character, and as a result the concurrent patterns—especially when one is pitched higher than the other—are easy to attend to as separate entities. In the Village of Hope exudes a subtle rhythmic urgency yet avoids being strictly metronomical in Godínez’s hands, and consequently her sensitive rendering of the material enhances the work’s pastoral, even dream-like character…. All three releases uphold Cold Blue’s reputation for high-quality music and do so using different approaches.” —Textura (In the Village of Hope was one of Textura‘s “Top Ten EPs” of 2015)