Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company: 1970-1973
(Cuneiform 1999, RUNE 109)
David Borden: The Continuing Story Of Counterpoint, Performed by Mother Mallard (Cuneiform)
From Aural Innovations #9 (January 2000)
Sometimes a writer gets a release that is easy to review, because it evokes such strong, pleasant memories of discoveries made in one's youth. When editor JK's package arrived here at Galactus, I was overjoyed to find this CD inside. I have listened to this music since 1971, and bought their first LP at a 1974 live show at NYC's "Public Access Synthesizer Studio" (PASS), which existed to serve as a non-profit performance Space for Electronic Music, and allow local composers, musicians, and artists the ability to utilize Electronic Music instruments economically.
MMPMC originally began as the test crew for Moog synthesizers in late 1969. Founder David Borden had been an award-winning Pianist and Composer when he became seduced by the possibilities of Electronic Music, traveling the few miles up the road from his studies at Ithaca to Moog's Trumansburg NY studios. Quickly recruiting compatriot Steven Drews and Pianist Linda Fisher, Borden began to experiment with ideas and arrangement for a trio of electronic Keyboardists. Many concerts were given as the trio worked on developing a group sound based on ostinado sequencer patterns and cyclic counterpoint. These ideas seemed to find much favor amongst many Classical Avante'-Garde composers of this era, from Terry Riley to Steve Reich to Phillip Glass to Lamonte Young.
"Ceres Motion" opens the side in strong fashion, and grows into a full-blown example of the above, with it's Sequencer, Keyboard Bass lines, and Bach-ian counterpoint stuff from RMI Electric Piano. "Cloudscape for Peggy" is a well know Electronic Music composition, and usually opened MMPMC live performances. Layered Synthesizers create a polyphonic drone, out of which melodic phrases arise; an undercurrent of Electric Piano suggests chord changes.
"Music" is introduced by a tape of Teresa Brewer's old standard, but starts right into a dense swirl of E-piano, and develops into a jam from the start, two pianists exploring the range of tonalities in an intense counterpoint duet, which continues until the track fades. "Train" was another staple of the band's concert music, and appears on the first LP. Long Bass tones open the tune, over which are layered upper register keyboard trills, which frame the melodic construction of the piece. Filtered/sequenced white noise provides the rhythmic material.
"Easter" also appears on the first LP, and opens with multiple sequences, some filtered and others ring-modulated, while a pitch-bent melodic fragment floats over the top, and a filtered atonal droning chord fills the mid-range of the band's sound. A melodic round is introduced over the sequences as the rhythm pattern changes. The interplay and delicacy, which the players exhibit on this track, betrays their classical training, while the burbling sequencers keep the sound from laming out or becoming fey! The introduction of electric Piano in the Bass propels the last "Movement" of the composition.
MMPMC's approach to creating live Electronic Music was very successful from about 1972-1976, and they did many performances at radio stations and college campuses throughout the US. I first experienced them during a radio broadcast in 1971, when they performed live at WBAI-FM. Being involved already with the SpaceRock music then coalescing in Europe a connection was made for me aurally with music I'd begun to hear from the likes of Tangerine Dream, or Popul Vuh. Obviously Borden's approach would be adopted by Froese, Schulze and company, whose adaptation involved the removal of the classical influence, and replacing it with an understanding of the creation of Electronic Music in a Rock context, hence MMPMC's relevance to the SpaceRock genre.
Cuneiform has done, as usual, a fine job issuing this CD. I'm curious as to whether or not they will release MMPMC's second LP, which documents a shift in the groups personnel and in the tonality of it's compositions
The other release in the package was the CD reissue of David Borden's work "The Continuing Story of Counterpoint, Parts 1-4 + 8, as performed by Mother Mallard. Composed from 1976-1983, these pieces were released on LP by Cuneiform in 1984, and marked the return of MM as a performing/recording unit.
The band's sound had shifted dramatically in the intervening years, and seems to display strong influences in the direction of the Phillip Glass/Steve Reich "school" of cyclic/rhythmic harmonic contrapuntalism which so heavily affected the Classical Avante'-Garde of the 70's/80's. Another sound shift is the absence of Analog synthesizers, as Borden began exploring the possibilities of MIDI/Digital machines, and introduced the sound of Winds, Voices and Guitars in conjunction with the Electronics.
Over all, this is impressive music. The skill of the players is topnotch as they sight-read their way through some VERY difficult parts. Most of the music is based on sixteenth notes at brisk tempos, so they must be up to grade to even begin dealing with this stuff. Standouts in the sound are the vocals of Ellen Hargis, who blends into the dark hue of the music perfectly, and the contributions of Les Thmmig, whose work on Winds and Reeds is magnificent.
This is quite serious stuff, and although there is both a trance-like quality to the articulation of the pulses in the music, and the Electronics, it is far from operating in any sort of "rockist" context, being an original approach to the basics of the genre Borden works in as both a composer and a performer of Western Classical Music. The music evolves, changes tempo and grooves, but it does not rock. You must listen closely to each voice and how it fits into the entire work.
The only possible negative criticism could be the use of so many piano-like Synthesizer patches in the movements, and the somewhat muddy Basses this era's Synthesizers produced. A more varied sound on the Keys would have made some of the movements of "TCSOC" even more unique. It is a minor complaint, but the work is so well done that it is trivial and should deter no interested potential listeners.
This stuff is a good place to start exploring the world of the Classical Avant-Garde, with it's varying compositional styles and ideas regarding performance, and the connections between that music and the SpaceRock readers of AI are interested in.
Reviewed by Doug Walker