Arthur Russell - Tower Of Meaning LP


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Label: Audika

Our Review:

Finally reissued on vinyl!! Twenty-two years after his death, the music of Arthur Russell is more alive than ever. Mostly known as a left-field disco producer and classically trained cellist, Russell was also an accomplished avant-garde composer, as evidenced here. Listed by us recently on limited cassette, and once reissued on cd in 2006 as part of the Audika collection First Thought Best Thought that documented his orchestral work with luminaries of the New York Downtown Scene (Rhys Chatham, Jon Gibson and Peter Gordon) following his stint as musical director at The Kitchen in New York, Tower Of Meaning was originally released on Philip Glass's new music label, Chatham Square in 1983.

A suite of seven movements performed by an ensemble of horn players and conducted by Julius Eastman (whom like Russell, was a gay modern classical iconoclast), Tower Of Meaning has a slow epic funereal vibe reminiscent of Gavin Bryars' The Sinking of The Titanic, or indeed like a Philip Glass piece in slow motion. While not quite as emotionally devastating as the Bryars piece, the horns in Tower Of Meaning play out long plaintive tones simultaneously resulting in unusual intonations and harmonics as the tones overlap creating modalities of clustering chords that aurally seem to both march forward and float upward without ever quite resolving itself, the "meaning" in the title forever remaining elusive and out of reach.

The Bryars connection is a bit ironic, however, because Tower Of Meaning was originally intended as incidental music to accompany a staging of Robert Wilson's Medea, but creative squabbling between the two forced Russell out and Gavin Bryars took over the project. The resultant recording is only a fraction of Russell's score which included voices and other instrumentation as well. Embittered by the experience, it was sadly Russell's final orchestral effort.