Byzantia is an avantgarde music jewel on Orion Master Recordings, a baroque and classical music label founded by Giveon Cornfield in Canada in 1962, later relocating to Malibu, CA, in 1967. The label published Aaron Copland’s piano music, soloists like Jean-Pierre Rampal or Yehudi Menuhin, as well as avantgarde music LPs such as James Nightingale’s Pandorasbox, as featured in a previous post. A selection from the 600 Orion releases until 1988 is currently being reissued by Canadian label Marquis Classics.
A composer, jazz researcher and educator, Alden Ashforth was born in New York around 1930. He studied music in New Jersey with various teachers, among which Roger Sessions and Milton Babitt. In the early 1950s, he produced jazz and blues sessions with New Orleans musicians, such as the Emile Barnes 1951 Dauphine Street Jam Session, or the Kid Clayton 1952 sessions, both published by Folkways in 1983. In 1969, Ashforth became director of the UCLA electronic music studio. Along other US composers such as Virgil Thomson, John Cage or Milton Babitt, Ashforth contributed a waltz to the concert of contemporary waltzes by contemporary composers organized in San Francisco in 1979, later released as a Nonesuch LP in 1980. Starting 1980, Ashforth taught composition at Princeton University and UCLA. Ashforth’s song cycle Aspects of Love was also published by Orion (ref. ORS 79335).
♫ In both sections of Byzantia, inspired by W. B. Yeats’ poem Sailing to Byzantium, the music emerges from a background of electronically-produced bird songs, as well as river and ocean wave sounds. More abstract synthesizer parts – some produced by the composer’s own amplified brain waves, like Alvin Lucier’s Music For A Solo Performer (1965) – gradually develop in conjunction with sustained organ notes and Moog traits. The composition maintains this perfect balance between radical, abstract sound experiments and melodious passages involving nature or real instrument imitations (trumpet, bells). The music is not pure meditation, though, and the pairing of organ tuttis and Moog fortes at times produce devastating washes of sound. While not a poem set to music, Alden Ashforth’s Byzantia certainly pays homage to the Irish poet with a music retaining some of the refinement and poetry of the original.
01 Sailing To Byzantium (20:00)
02 Byzantium (18:32)
Alden Ashforth, synthesizer (Buchla, Moog), biofeedback, tape
James Bossert, organ
Total time 38:32
LP released by Orion Master Recordings, Malibu, CA, ref. ORS-74164, 1974