Halcyon Days CB0065
Halcyon Days draws together a vibrant collection of Byron’s early music for percussion and piano. Except for the final piece (Tender, Infinitely Tender, written in 2016), these pieces are from a previously under-documented period of Byron’s work—the mid-’70s, when he composed unique and remarkable minimalist-styled works. This album treats us to clangorous clouds of polyrhythms and simple, direct, quiet works, both of which explore rich harmonies and bespeak a sense of transcendent motionlessness.
Drifting Music (1972) and Music of Every Night (1974) are performed by Winant alone, via overdubs. The three-movement percussion quartet Music of Steady Light (1978) is performed by the William Winant Percussion Group (William Winant, Tony Gennaro, Michael Jones, and Scott Siler), the piano four-hands work Starfields (1974) is played by the Ray-Kallay Duo (Vicki Ray and Aron Kallay), and Tender, Infinitely Tender is played by Lisa Moore.
1. Drifting Music (1972)
2. Music of Every Night (1974)
3–5. Music of Steady Light (1978)
I , II , III
6. Starfields (1974)
7. Tender, Infinitely Tender (2016)
Byron writes about the album:
“Poet Anne Tardos wrote that “Time doesn’t pass. We pass.” Most of the pieces on this CD were composed in the 1970s. It seemed like everything was beginning then. Lifelong friends were made, and improbable ideas were shared; composing neither began nor ended.
“This CD features virtuoso percussionist, and my oldest friend, Bill Winant. Over the last 50 years he has performed and premiered every percussion piece that I’ve ever composed. These pieces, and this CD, are dedicated to him.”
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)
Raised in Los Angeles, 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 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. Recordings of Byron’s music have been released by Cold Blue Music, appearing on seven previous Cold Blue CDs, including Bridges of Pearl and Dust (CB0057), CB0054, CB0043, CB0012, CB0008, CB0005, and CB0003. His music has also been released on 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. (www.michaelbyron.org)
“[Byron is] one of those contemporary composers who can justifiably be classed as crucial. . . . 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
William Winant, declared “the avant-elite’s go-to percussionist” by SPIN magazine, is a Grammy-nominated new-music champion who has appeared on more than 200 recordings. Among his recent recording appearances are on Roscoe Mitchell’s Bells for the South Side and Discussions, Joan Jeanrenaud’s Visual Music, Fred Frith’s Field Days (The Amanda Loops), John Zorn’s Malkhut and Fragmentations, Prayers and Interjections, the collaboratively composed (with Wadada Leo Smith, Henry Kaiser, and Tania Chen) Ocean of Storms, John Cage’s The Ten Thousand Things, and Alvin Curran’s Shofar Rags.
Winant has worked with and collaborated with some of the most innovative and creative musicians of our time, including John Cage, John Zorn, Alvin Lucier, Iannis Xenakis, Pierre Boulez, Frank Zappa, Keith Jarrett, Roscoe Mitchell, Wadada Leo Smith, Anthony Braxton, Fred Frith, James Tenney, Terry Riley, Cecil Taylor, Gerry Hemingway, Mark Dresser, Barry Guy, Marilyn Crispell, George Lewis, Steve Reich, Nexus, Peter Garland, David Rosenboom, Michael Byron, Jean-Philippe Collard, Frederic Rzewski, Ursula Oppens, Joan La Barbara, Annea Lockwood, Danny Elfman, Oingo Boingo, Sonic Youth, Marc Ribot, Keith Rowe, Joey Barron, Bill Frisell, Yo-Yo Ma, Rova Saxophone Quartet, Lawrence “Butch” Morris, Henry Kaiser, and the Kronos String Quartet. For many years he worked closely with composer Lou Harrison, premiering and recording many of his works.
Winant is principal percussionist with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and the William Winant Percussion Group and has been featured as a guest artist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (under the direction of Pierre Boulez), the San Francisco Symphony, and the Berkeley Symphony (Kent Nagano, director), as well as at the Cabrillo Festival, the Monterey Jazz Festival, the SFJazz Festival, Central Park SummerStage, the Ravinia Festival, the Salzburg Festival, the Donaueschingen Festival, the Victoriaville Festival, the Holland Festival, the Edinburgh Festival, the Ojai Festival, the Sonar Festival, All Tomorrow’s Parties, the Taktlos Festival, the Other Minds Festival, the Meltdown Festival, Lincoln Center, the Royal Festival Hall, the Library of Congress, the Barbican, the Kennedy Center, the Paris Opera, Disney Hall, the Miller Theater’s Composer Portraits Series, Merkin Hall, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (www.williamwinant.com)
“Winant is a dazzling virtuoso but also a catalytic presence in adventurous music, a percussive dynamo generating rhythms, colours and textures that blaze life into visionary scores.”—Julian Cowley, The Wire magazine
“[Winant is] . . . one of the most wide-ranging musicians in North America . . . making a cumulative point about open-field maverick tendencies in the music of this country, whether it involves notes-on-paper composers, noise generators, rock improvisers, jazz-tradition players or whatever.”—Ben Ratliff, The New York Times
“William Winant is simply the best percussionist working today. . . . . Whichever piece it is, he is not afraid to make it come alive.”—Kim Gordon
“William Winant always plays his ass off!”—John Zorn
“Willie is very much responsible for my lifelong infatuation with percussion and remains to this day a true inspiration to me.”—Danny Elfman
“One of the great contemporary percussionists . . . San Francisco’s William Winant.”—San Francisco Chronicle
Lisa Moore is one of NYC’s top new-music pianists. Praised by The New York Times for playing that is “brilliant and searching . . . beautiful and impassioned . . . lustrous,” she was the founding pianist for the award-winning Bang on a Can All-Stars, and she has performed with such leading artists and ensembles as Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, Ornette Coleman, Thurston Moore, Iva Bittova, Bryce Dessner, London Sinfonietta, Steve Reich Ensemble, New York City Ballet, American Composers Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, appearing in festivals throughout the world.
Moore has released 12 solo discs of music by composers ranging from Leoš Janáçek to Philip Glass. In 2022, she released her second album of music by Frederic Rzewski, no place to go but around. The New York Times noted that the album is “meticulous . . . clever . . . hits the gas with controlled force” with “a greater range of emotion than other interpreters.” Her 2016 CD The Stone People, featuring the music of John Luther Adams, Martin Bresnick, Missy Mazzoli, Kate Moore, Frederic Rzewski, and Julia Wolfe, made The New York Times Top Classical Albums of 2016 list and the 2017 Naxos Critics’ Choice. Moore has recorded over 30 collaborative discs (on Sony, Nonesuch, DG, BMG, New World, ABC Classics, Albany, New Albion, Starkland, Harmonia Mundi). Her recording of Steve Reich’s Music for Eighteen Musicians with Ensemble Signal made The New York Times Top Classical Albums of 2015 list.
Vicki Ray, whose playing has been described as “phenomenal and fearless,” is Los Angeles’s leading new-music pianist. Her concerts often include electronics, video, recitation, and improvisation. As noted by critic Alan Rich, “Vicki plans programs with a knack for marvelous freeform artistry. . . . [W]hat she draws from her piano always relates in wondrous ways to the senses.” As a founding member of Piano Spheres, an acclaimed series dedicated to exploring the less familiar realms of the solo piano repertoire, her playing has been hailed by the Los Angeles Times for “displaying that kind of musical thoroughness and technical panache that puts a composer’s thoughts directly before the listener.” Ray’s work as a collaborative artist has been diverse: She was the keyboardist in the California E.A.R. Unit and Xtet and she has frequently performed on the Dilijan, Jacaranda, Green Umbrella, and Monday Evening Concerts series. Vicki has been heard in major solo roles with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. With pianist Aron Kallay, she is a member of the Ray-Kallay Duo.
Her numerous recordings cover everything from the premier release on Nonesuch of Reich’s You Are (Variations) to the semi-improvised structures of Wadada Leo Smith, from the elegant serialism of Mel Powell to the austere beauty of Morton Feldman’s Crippled Symmetries, and include David Rosenboom’s Twilight Language (Tzadik) and Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet with the Eclipse Quartet. Her recording of Cage’s The Ten Thousand Things (Microfest Records) was nominated for a Grammy. In 2017 she recorded Daniel Lentz’s River of 1,000 Streams for Cold Blue Music (CB0050).
Aron Kallay is one of L.A.’s top new-music pianists, with performances that often integrate technology, video, and alternate tunings. His playing has been praised by the Los Angeles Times as “exquisite . . . alive, worthy of our wonder.” KPFK radio has noted that he possesses “that special blend of intellect, emotion, and overt physicality that makes even the thorniest scores simply leap from the page into the listeners’ laps.” Fanfare magazine described him as “a multiple threat: a great pianist, brainy tech wizard, and visionary promoter of a new musical practice.”
Aron has performed throughout the United States and abroad and is a fixture on the Los Angeles new-music scene. He is the co-founder and board president of People Inside Electronics (PIE), a concert series dedicated to classical electroacoustic music; the managing director of MicroFest, Los Angeles’s annual festival of microtonal music; and the co-director of the new-music concert series Tuesdays@MONK Space. He is also the co-director of MicroFest Records, whose first release, John Cage: The Ten Thousand Things, was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Chamber Music Performance. Aron has recorded for the MicroFest, Cold Blue Music, Delos, and Populist labels. In addition to his solo work, he is currently a member of the new-music ensembles Brightwork, the Varied Trio, and the Ray-Kallay Duo. In 2015, Kallay recorded the Daniel Lentz album In the Sea of Ionia for Cold Blue Music.
The William Winant Percussion Group has premiered works by Lou Harrison, Jose Maceda, Chris Brown, Johanna M. Beyer, Daniel Goode, James Tenney, Maayan Tsadka, and others. They can be heard on recordings on the New Albion, Tzadik, and New World labels. The ensembles members:
William Winant is a celebrated and very active new-music percussionist. See his bio above.
Tony Gennaro is a percussionist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and improviser active in the LA and Bay Area music communities, with performances spanning the genres of classical, jazz, rock, free improvisation, experimental, and world musics. He is an active member of the William Winant Percussion Group and the new-music ensemble Dirt and Copper. He has recently been featured in projects by Larry Polansky, Roscoe Mitchell, Meredith Monk, Steed Cowart, Wendy Reid, Herman Kolgen, David Behrman, and Nicole Mitchell.
Michael Jones is a Southern California–based percussionist and conductor. He has performed in the LA Philharmonic’s Noon-to-Midnight Festival, the Other Minds Festival, Monday Evening Concerts, the Dog Star Orchestra Festival, the Hartford New Music Festival, and the Vernon Salon Series and had residencies at the Darmstadt Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and the Nief-Norf Summer Festival. He has appeared as a member of the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra; the William Winant Percussion Group; and the Empyrean, ECHOI, and red fish blue fish ensembles. As a performer and researcher of non-Western music, Jones has performed music from Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, West Africa, and Iran, and he studied Dagara, Ewe, Asante, and Dagomba music in Ghana at the Dagara Music Center and the Dagbe Cultural Center.
Scott Siler is an Oakland-based percussionist and composer. He holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and Mills College. Since moving to the Bay Area in 2011, Siler has been active in the experimental music scene, playing in a wide range of contexts and genres. In addition to the William Winant Percussion Group, he also plays with the gamelan-influenced Lightbulb Ensemble.
“Percussionist William Winant is one of those vital instrumentalists whose technical knowhow and accumulated insight actively encourage composers to venture beyond the securities of convention and compromise. New York based composer Michael Byron dedicates Halcyon Days to Winant, his oldest friend, in acknowledgement of his enabling availability and enduring brilliance as a musical interpreter. Winant reciprocates by breathing fresh air into two adventurous pieces from the early 1970s, one scored for tubular bells, the other for maracas and marimbas. He then leads a tuned percussion quartet in a radiant performance of Byron’s aptly named Music of Steady Light (1978). Two sharply contrasting piano works complete the programme: Starfields (1974), a breathlessly percussive keyboard fusillade, scored for four hands, and Tender, Infinitely Tender (2016), nurtured gently into being through the hands of Lisa Moore.” —Julian Cowley, The Wire
“With the first tubular bell iteration of Drifting Music, Michael Byron’s music iridesces into reflective existence. If the name William Winant titillates ear and imagination, this disc will not disappoint, as he and everyone aboard proffer performances of power and ultimately indescribable beauty.
“These largely early pieces, mainly composed in the early 1970s, require precision on multiple fronts. The playing must be razor-sharp and ultra-expressive, but a top-shelf recording is essential for music such as this, with sounds as naked as they are forceful, like the best improvised music or pithy electroacoustic works. There’s no need to worry on that score, and everything can simply be enjoyed. Just as a case in point, take that opening bell salvo. Marvel as it decays, each tone disappearing to leave behind shadows of itself, fragment upon fragment enveloped by a temporary void and only awaiting another big bang. Better still, the luminous layers accrue, a kind of sonic halo in the making until it too unravels, tone and shadow in slow mellifluous dance.
“Nearly a half century later, Tender, Infinitely Tender travels similar but entirely different paths of discovery and resolution, this time often arpeggiated, but what arpeggios they are! How beautifully spun in webs of increasing overtonal and scalar complexity! Is that a tonal shift near the half-way mark, so exquisitely executed by pianist Lisa Moore? It is and it isn’t! As is so often the case in Byron’s Protean musical musings, emphasis in combination with switch determines the narrative, a tonal flux rather than a complete decentering. The change is even more minimal—pun partially intended—in Starfields’ brawny grit, which it would be an understatement to call pointillistic. It’s more like daggers drawn for peace! No tonal shift occurs, because the center is already diffuse. The rhythms blaze and then pour forth, like the ticking of cosmic clocks becoming the flow of consciousness itself. Spectra are enfolded within spectra as chord and tonal component merge, diverge, and converge again in the more than capable grip of pianists Vicki Ray and Aron Kallay. Here again, a great recording is of the essence as articulation and texture, beyond melody and harmony, become the duo’s primary expressive vehicle.
“Music of Steady Light is the album’s centerpiece, and rightly so. It sums up all that precedes and succeeds it with infinitely more rhythmic intrigue, which is no problem for the William Winant Percussion Group. The first movement’s ascent is breathtaking, and while there are certain Ligetian traits afoot, as critics love to observe, Byron’s harmonies are much more open and fluid, stemming from an entirely different tradition. The first and third movements begin in stunning pianissimo, and the third especially tingles with registral interplay that must be experienced, so glorious is its unfolding. The three-part suite caps a disc as translucent and muscular as it is entrancing in its complex simplicity, a testament to performative and production excellence in the service of a diversely unified compositional voice.” —Marc Medwin, Fanfare magazine
“Featuring works for marimbas, xylophones, vibraphones, glockenspiels, tubular bells, maracas, and piano, and composed by Byron in the ’70s, this deceptively alluring release sneaks up on you quietly but eventually envelopes you in its lustrous charm like a warm blanket. The majority of these pieces are realized by longtime Byron cohort William Winant, the Winant Percussion Group, and performers Lisa Moore, Vicki Ray, and Aron Kallay. The beautifully minimal Drifting Music is an ideal showcase for the Byron/Winant team, as the erstwhile percussionist tenderizes a series of gong-struck tones in an arresting, almost clockwork fashion. Marimbas and hissing background effects smear the nocturnal elegies suffusing Music of Every Night, sounds so delicate and strangely made, their natural patinas both subverted and augmented by the touch of beings seemingly more enlightened than us. The lengthy, three-part suite that is Music of Steady Light is undoubtedly the album’s highlight, a cascading tumble down a rabbit-hole of infinite vibraphonics whose tones re-imagine a Reichian tableau of percussive sturm und drang that will linger in your ears long after the pieces have concluded. This diaphanous aftereffect is even more telling in its second-part mirror image, this time painted by a glowing fusillade of glockenspiels and tubular bells that are positively radiant, as if Winant and his colleagues have ripped open the heavens to allow the pearlescent manna to rain down upon us like diamonds. Call it post-post-modern classical, nu-age chamber music, or simply a paean to deep listening, this is one of the most beautiful recordings your ears will experience in this or any other year, impeccably played, performed, and produced.” —Darren Bergstein, Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter
“Before decamping to New York in the late 1970s, composer Michael Byron was a vibrant participant in the school of West Coast minimalism that revolved around the California Institute of the Arts, where he studied under James Tenney and Richard Teitelbaum. His perpetual sidekick from the beginning was the masterful percussionist William Winant, who’s featured on this excellent collection looking back on those early days—four of the five works date between 1972 and 1978.
“The meditative Drifting Music is something of a tubular bells study, rich in pulsating overtones, but it’s Music of Every Night, another solo work, that’s haunted me from my first listen, a shimmering carpet of tightly-coiled marimba pitches that hang in the air like clouds, complemented by a steady thrum of maracas that suggest the chirping of crickets. Winant’s percussion ensemble nails the glowing yet densely contrapuntal Music of Steady Light, a three-movement gem for tuned percussion. Vicki Ray and Aron Kelly tackle Byron’s 1978 four-handed piano work Starfields, a sonic sleight of hand between the static and the kinetic, while pianist Lisa Moore takes on Tender, Infinitely Tender, the one recent composition on the album; it’s loosely tethered to Byron’s earlier concerns yet adds a new undercurrent of uncertainty.” —Peter Margasak, Best Contemporary Classical on Bandcamp
“Halcyon Days celebrates Byron’s enduring relationship with [William] Winant, the latter having performed and premiered every one of the composer’s percussion pieces. . . . Halcyon Days features Winant performing alone and with his four-member percussion ensemble and follows those performances with piano-centered ones by Ray-Kallay Duo (Vicki Ray and Aron Kallay) and Lisa Moore. Interestingly, all of the pieces except for 2016’s Tender, Infinitely Tender were composed in the ’70s, though the passing of time has done nothing to lessen their appeal. All five might be called minimalistic, though the term here more refers to their use of modest instrumentation than stylistic character. That said, certain pieces do derive maximum mileage from modest compositional designs. As performed by Ray-Kallay Duo, Starfields, for example, unleashes an entanglement of clangorous chords that’s so dizzying it suggests an accumulation of tolling bells. In similar manner, the opening Drifting Music limits its focus to reverberations produced by tubular bells, with Winant punctuating clouds of textures with loud strikes.
“Elsewhere, he drapes marimba patterns across a streaming maracas-generated backdrop in Music of Every Night, the effect strangely calming, peaceful, and dream-like. The release’s dominant work, the three-part Music of Steady Light, is performed by Winant’s Percussion Group, which augments him with Tony Gennaro, Michael Jones, and Scott Siler and involves an arsenal of marimbas, xylophones, glockenspiels, and vibraphones. In the opening part, patterns gather into a vibrant, restless mass, their build suggestive of a biological organism seen in time-lapsed video developing at light speed, before reduction sets in and the whole becomes raindrop-like sprinkles. The second part casts a spell with streams of gleaming tinkles and flowing patterns that gradually come to resemble the natural dazzle created by wind chimes. Initially pitched at a softer level is the closing part, which blends all four instrument types into an increasingly animated pool before returning to its hushed beginnings. At album’s end, Moore expertly navigates the intertwining pianistic terrain of Tender, Infinitely Tender for eleven ruminative minutes. One San Francisco Bay Guardian writer likened Byron’s music to Alexander Calder’s mobiles for being both fixed and moving. The comparison’s apt, at least as far as Halcyon Days is concerned, in identifying two qualities that often co-exist in the release’s five pieces. While development is present, there is a sense in which each setting hovers as if suspended in space.” —Ron Schepper, Textura
“Michael Byron is a mainstay of Cold Blue Music’s wonderful output, and Halcyon Days is a wonderfully slow and meditative collection of music written back in the 1970s but only now recorded and released. Drifting Music is a piece for tubular bells, which focusses on the sustain and decay of the bells’ ringing tones for six minutes, whilst the following Music of Every Night sees percussionist William Winant move to maracas and marimbas for a piece which starts with the gentle swish and rustle of the former until a couple of minutes in, the marimba’s deep wooden tones arrive, gently meandering and sustaining the piece until it again fades out to reveal the soft shaking percussion beneath.
“Music of Steady Light is a longer piece, with Winant playing an array of percussion. The first part is reminiscent of Philip Glass’ Uakti in tone and minimalist rhythmic interplay (that’s not a complaint), whilst part two goes all metallic and twinkling. The final part seems to reinvent the first but with clearer separation and a sonic clarity that builds in slow tension then slurs and slows to a close. The final two tracks are a four-handed piano piece which sets crashing chords beneath a lighter, higher pitched, faster and slowly evolving part; and a limpid, laconic piano solo, Tender, Infinitely Tender which strays into Harold Budd territory. It is a beautiful piece to end this wonderful album.” —Rupert Loydell, International Times
“Halcyon Days, a new album of music by composer Michael Byron . . . consists of percussion and keyboard pieces that date from early in Byron’s career, providing new insight into the beginnings and development of his brilliantly original style. The performers on the album include Vicki Ray and Aron Kallay, two of the top new music pianists in Los Angeles. The legendary William Winant and his versatile percussion group are also heard on this CD. The material dates from 1972 to 1978 and also includes one recent work from 2016, performed by New York-based pianist Lisa Moore. As stated in the press release ‘This album treats us to clangorous clouds of polyrhythms and simple, direct, quiet works, both of which explore rich harmonies and bespeak a sense of transcendent motionlessness.’ The CD is dedicated to Winant, longtime friend and colleague of the composer.
“The music of Michael Byron seemingly defies conventional explanation. It is minimalist almost in the extreme and is comprised of basic musical materials. It has no obvious formal structure, no melodic development or even a consistent rhythmic organization. The repeating patterns and layers weave in and around each other, creating a lush harmonic field that often evokes a deep sense of the mystical. This music seems to be in constant motion, yet at the same time it is essentially static, like listening to a small stream or brook splashing along—always moving and changing, but somehow staying the same.
The earliest piece on the CD, Drifting Music, dates from 1972 and illustrates some of the distinctive characteristics of Byron’s musical processes. Drifting Music opens with a series of solitary tubular bell chimes that are allowed to ring out for several seconds. More tones are added in a nearby pitch via overdubbing, and the interaction of the tones shimmer in the listener’s ear. The effect is both solemn and invigorating, with an impact greater than the simplicity of the sounds would suggest. Extracting the fullest expression from the most elementary musical gestures is an important aspect of Byron’s craft and is clearly evident in this early work.
“In Music of Every Night (1974), Byron extends his ideas across two distinct timbres: maracas and marimbas. The piece opens with quietly continuous maraca sounds, like the soft buzzing of insects on a warm tropical night. After two full minutes, marimba riffs are heard in different registers, mixing and melding in a series of luminescent harmonies. The marimbas are used primarily for their pitches and timbre, with less emphasis on the rhythms. The result is unexpectedly introspective, exotic but not cliché. . . . The sure touch by percussionist William Winant, along with precise overdubbing, produces a seamless blend of sound.
“Music of Steady Light (1978), with three movements, is the longest and most complex piece on the album. This is performed by the William Winant Percussion Group and includes marimbas, xylophones, glockenspiels and vibraphones. Movement I opens with a scatter of deep syncopated marimba tones in the lower registers and this is soon joined by vibraphone notes that add a mysterious feel. The dynamics, tempo and complexity increase as the movement moves forward, building up layer by layer. The listening becomes an immersive experience as the polyrhythms swirl and weave in and around each other. The notes come with a sense of purpose, like a driving rain, although never out of control. The energy gradually dissipates over the second half of the movement as the tempo slows and the notes thin out, fading at the finish.
“The second movement employs bright, luminous phrases ringing out from several instruments—vibraphone, glockenspiel and xylophone. Overlapping passages are heard with rapid, broken rhythms and syncopation, all played without a common beat. Beautiful interactions are heard among the overtones that combine to sound like a giant wind chime. The repeating rhythms and ringing harmonies act together to form an organic whole. The playing is masterful, given the necessary coordination of the many ringing phrases. . . .
“The third movement starts off with a low hum in marimbas and sparkly high notes from the glockenspiel. The low notes form a nice foundation for the individual glockenspiel notes that gleam like bright stars in clear night sky. . . . The phrases pour out, seemingly at random, but ultimately building to a sense of the other-worldly. The playing is impressive—all the instruments are independent of each other, yet with no loss of overall expressive power.
“Music of Steady Light has many seemingly random moving parts, but Byron’s artful vision, and the virtuosity of the Winant Percussion Group, combine for an extraordinary listening experience.
“Starfields (1974), for four-handed piano, begins with a repeating series of strong chords in the middle register that clang away like an urgent alarm. The pitches do not change and the rhythms are slightly syncopated, adding tension. A solitary lower chord is heard at intervals and this has, by the contrast, a warmer feel. The chords accelerate in tempo while the rhythms deconstruct, and the sounds mix together in a lovely swirl. The flow of notes is at a consistently strong dynamic, unvarying, so that the initial pounding, percussive sensation is sustained. The muscular playing of Vicki Ray and Aron Kallay is full of surging power.
“The final track, Tender, Infinitely Tender (2016), is the most recent piece of the album. This solo work is performed by pianist Lisa Moore. At the opening, lovely piano arpeggios ring out as lush chords soon appear in the lower registers. . . . There is a transcendental, spiritual feel to this and the phrases roll along as if they never need to end. A quiet key change at about the halfway point provides a sense of harmonic movement, a feature Byron employs in other recent works, such as In the Village of Hope. Tender, Infinitely Tender is a beautiful work played with a sensitive touch and great emotional expression.
“Halcyon Days confirms a consistent musical vision that can be readily observed in these early works of Michael Byron. The ability to extract lush harmonies from pitched percussion and to create a sense of expressive integrity in the absence of formal structure make Michael Byron an indispensable contributor to the evolution of new music over the last 50 years.” —Paul Muller, Sequenza21
“Winant is the soloist on the first two tracks, Drifting Music (1972) and Music of Every Night (1974). He also leads the William Winant Percussion Group, whose other members are Tony Gennaro, Michael Jones, and Scott Siler, in the performance of Music of Steady Light (1978). The remaining two tracks are piano music. Starfields (1974) was composed for four hands on a single keyboard; and it is performed by the Ray-Kallay Duo, whose members are Vicki Ray and Aron Kallay. The album concludes with Lisa Moore’s solo performance of Tender, Infinitely Tender (2016).
“All of the music from the Seventies has been previously under-documented. This was the decade during which ‘minimalist’ techniques began to emerge. . . . Where resources are concerned, Drifting Music is decidedly the most ‘minimal.’ However, the score explicitly exploits ‘interference’ effects in which the superposition of the sonorities of individual tubes give rise to new sonorities. As in many other compositions from this period, listening must be directed at the details; and in ‘Drifting Music’ those details serve up a thoroughly engaging experience.
“Nevertheless, the selections on this album suggest that, once Byron had explored a particular approach to composing for an instrumentation, he felt obliged to consider another set of instrumental resources and shift his composition strategy accordingly. Thus, while the tracks on the album are not strictly in chronological order, one can still appreciate the progression of composition techniques. It is also worth noting that Byron would return to the textures emerging from his earlier techniques when he composed Bridges of Pearl and Dust in 2011. This piece was scored for four vibraphones and was recorded by Ben Phelps using overdubbing technology for a “singles” album that was released by Cold Blue in October of 2019. Presumably, Byron is still exploring new approaches to creating auditory textures.” —Stephen Smoliar, The Rehearsal Studio
“Michael Byron is a composer who innovates in the Neo-Minimal, Radical Tonality zone in ways that sometimes suggest, and nicely so, a cross affiliation with Avant Jazz in its spiritual aspects, such as we have heard from mature Cecil Taylor and later John Coltrane, and then from the Minimal school later Terry Riley also, in its hypnotic quality. In this manner the new album of some five lively chamber works steps forward boldly and appealingly. It is a new one on Cold Blue Records, named Halcyon Days, Music for Marimbas, Xylophones, Vibraphones, Glockenspiels, Maracas and Pianos (Cold Blue Music CB0065).
“The volume adds to the strong batch of works by Byron that gradually found their way into aural publication and we are all the better for it since Byron has his own special voice yet draws upon roots music and tonal lyricism in gratifying resonances.
“Performances are championed with flair by William Winant and the William Winant Percussion Group, the Ray-Kallay Duo of four-hand piano performances and Lisa Moore on piano. Getting this music right takes persistence and spirit, and that is just what they do.
“The first part of the program highlights some special music for mallets from the ’70s, with clusterings of notefulness in dense testificatory energetics rather than pulse, and nicely hovering over our listening selves. We hear with interest the two solo percussion works, from 1972 the tubular bells of Drifting Music, and the maracas and marimbas of the 1974 Music of Every Night.
“The three-movement Music of Steady Light (1978) gives us a spacious soundscape of twittering and expressive multimallet configurations. You should let this music wash over you while noting how it passes over like a virtual series of celestial weather forays, with a enchantingly expressive way about it.
“Starfields (1974) creates a another hovering superstructure via four hand piano configurations. It bears scrutiny and repeated hearings.
“Finally, Tender, Infinitely Tender brings us to 2016 and a solo piano work that enchants wonderfully for a time again and then is gone like all music, stays in the air and then nowhere to be found as Eric Dolphy noted some time ago. It has that endless melody of a cosmic Coltranesque aura to my ears and I myself love to bask in it all throughout.
“I recommend you give this one your ears if you respond to the sort of contemplative zone that Radical Tonality excels at. Listen, do. A milestone in the genre.” —Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
“This new, substantial release from Cold Blue Music offers us the opportunity to listen to some important percussion compositions by Michael Byron dating back to the 1970s. If Music of Steady Light (1978), for percussion ensemble, brings to mind—either for its remarkable range, or for the swarming rhythmic pulsations that dominate it—the contemporary works of composers such as Steve Reich and Terry Riley, the two percussion pieces Drifting Music (1972, for tubular bells) and Music of Every Night (1974, for marimba and maracas) seem to anticipate the acoustic illusions generated by the monotimbral works of the post-minimalist composer Michael Gordon. Byron’s music gives the impression of living in an eternal present, now ecstatic and comforting, now intimate and meditative. The latter is the case of the two piano compositions that close the CD, Starfields (1974) for the piano duo Ray-Kallay, and Tender, Infinitely Tender, a piece written in 2016 for the former Bang on A Can member Lisa Moore. Like Michael Byron, percussionist William Winant is also a longtime member of the ‘Cold Blue’ family, and provides an indispensable contribution by interpreting the delicate rhythmic fabric woven by his friend Byron.” —Filippo Focosi, Kathodik (Italy)
“On Halcyon Days, a set of seven compositions by Michael Byron, we find five pieces for percussion. William Winant plays tubular bells, maracas, and marimbas, while the William Winant Percussion Group plays marimbas, xylophones, glockenspiels and vibraphones. The other two pieces are for piano, one for piano four-hands (by the Ray-Kallay duo) and one solo (by Lisa Moore). I understand that these are old pieces from 1972, 1974 and 1978, and the last is from 2016. The tubular bells piece is the oldest and is called Drifting Music, an excellent piece of shifting sounds that slowly amass overtones, which is also the approach taken in Music of Every Night, but with maracas and marimbas. Of course, I like minimal music, drones and overtones, and it’s great to hear it played on acoustic instruments. Minimalism is also the word used to describe the three-part final percussion piece, Music of Steady Light. . . . Minimal but with a more open sound. I was less charmed by the four-hands piano Starfields, which I found pretty chaotic. The final piece, Tender, Infinitely Tender, does exactly that—be tender, and Moore’s piano playing gently moves it along.” —Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly (Netherlands)
“Byron’s career as a composer began in earnest in 1972. . . . Four of the five pieces on Halcyon Days are culled from those earliest works, from 1972 to 1978, pieces that are based in tuned percussion—vibraphone, xylophone, marimbas, glockenspiel, tubular bells, piano, and maracas. Yeah, we know that maracas are not really tuned, but they are used on at least one of the pieces here to good advantage. The centerpiece of the album is the 34-minute, three-part Music of Steady Light, composed in 1978, a somewhat minimalist excursion through three different scenarios, stated with a different variety of percussive elements in each part. The piece is performed by the four-piece William Winant Percussion Group on marimbas, xylophones, glockenspiels, and vibraphones, each with its own profile and character. I have to admit being reminded of some of La Monte Young’s works, though Young’s would be strictly an endeavor for piano. Here, the combination of different instruments as the piece proceeds makes for a powerful and intensely beautiful concoction. The opener, Drifting Music, starts with a repeated note on tubular bells, joined in time by what sounds like a chorus of Tibetan bowls swirling and beating with an unmistakable resonance and shimmering beauty as it slowly fades back to the bell that started it all. Music of Every Night is a very quiet and subtle piece, maracas gently opening like insects in the night, followed with a subtle melody on marimba played by Winant alone. Starfields is a piano piece for four hands, performed by the Ray-Kallay duo (Vicki Ray and Aron Kallay), a mysterious, almost random sounding piece of minimalism Byron composed in 1974, where one might hear the influence of Daniel Lentz. The closer is another piano piece, solo this time, Tender, Infinitely Tender, performed by Lisa Moore; it’s the only recent composition here, from 2016, though it certainly seems informed by Byron’s early endeavors from the ’70s. With every piece taking a different turn, it’s easy to be drawn in to the emotion and beauty of Halcyon Days.” —Peter Thelen, Exposé