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    Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble – Return

    Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble - Return

    Straight off the bat, we’re going to have to deal with the name of this outfit: Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble. Believe it or not, it measures in at a whopping 15 syllables, which almost qualifies as a whole sentence, if not a short story. Yeah, the name is pretty much way too long for its own good. It’s so painfully long, I’ll bet no human has ever uttered it out loud because it would require too much energy; like you would have to eat three meals during the course of saying it. Let’s give it a try. Come on, repeat after me: “Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble.” Whew! I got tired just typing it right then. The name also sounds generic, kind of like if I started a rock group and named it Rock Group.

    Normally, when one thinks of Michigan, experimental music is not the first thing that comes to mind, despite the fact that the legendary ONCE Festival went down there in the early 1960s in Ann Arbor, where bedroom experimentalists Destroy All Monsters also laid down their lo-fi tracks a decade later. Fast forward three decades to Allendale, the small college town in the western side of the state that the GVSUNME calls home. Sure enough, that’s where the composer, conductor and producer Bill Ryan founded the ensemble in 2006. I’d like to say that after over a decade and three albums’ worth of accolades that the ensemble’s fourth album, Return, is a fine, uh, return to form, but I’ve never heard their first three, so I can’t.

    What I do know is that Return takes the listener on a blissfully billowing journey through myriad minimal terrain over the space of 15 spacious tracks. Exploring some concepts laid down in the 1960s by such composers as Terry Riley and Steve Reich, the ensemble forges their own path via the compositions of three of Ryan’s former students, Daniel Rhode, Adam Cuthbert and Matt Finch. The material on display ranges from Riley-esque simple, repetitive instrumental figures with deep bass to ambient washes with layered pulsations. (The instrumental tracks were re-worked with electronic flourishes.) In particular, “Glacier” sports some super delicate drones almost like Oval’s quietest moments. In stark contrast to its title, “Elegant” sounds like a baleen whale with bronchitis snoring through a vacuum cleaner inside a wind tunnel, while “Under Its Own Colorless Weight” supports a whole bunch of rotating cinnamon rolls with glitchy high-pitched pinging sprinkled on top. Even some gamelan-like sounds get thrown into the mix. The whole shebang sounds so light ‘n’ airy and just downright pleasant, I can’t imagine anyone would ever, um, return this CD for a refund.

    Label: Innova Catalog Number: Innova 983 Format: CD Packaging: Mini-LP triple gatefold Tracks: 15 Country: United States Released: 2017 More: Bandcamp, Innova, NPR, Official

    Text ©2018 by Arcane Candy.

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