Going to Hell and Back Makes for Good Music


Mimi Goese & Ben Neill: Songs for Persephone (Ramseur)

Mimi Goese was the singer of Hugo Largo, and has had an artistically fruitful career since that '80s downtown New York indie-rock mainstay expired, releasing a solo album and collaborating with Moby. Trumpeter Ben Neill first became known in the avant-garde (student of LaMonte Young, collaborator with Rhys Chatham and Nicolas Collins, music curator at The Kitchen) who has also recently had success with an album of dubstep electronica.

This music was written for a Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Next Wave Festival production that starred Julia Stiles. Goese's distinctive vocal style combines the arch phrasing of Dagmar Krause (Henry Cow, Art Bears), operatic range and agility, and a flexible stylistic sensibility that subverts any genre to which she applies it.Neill’s signature instrument is the three-belled/six-valved "mutantrumpet" of his own invention, which allows him to drastically switch timbres instantly. While the mutantrumpet’s effects are less obvious in a recorded context, and there is apparently much overdubbing here, the fluid approach to textures that this instrument more easily enables permeates this music.

Stylistic variety is also crucial in this music; elements of musical theater, pop songs, rock and electronic instrumentation/production ("Elegy" even has a glitch pulse running through it), classical music, and even subtle avant-garde touches are smoothly melded. The classical bits are part of an underlying concept that could be easily overlooked: the basis of these songs is the reconfiguration of bits of famous classical pieces (by Berlioz, Schumann, Bruckner, Grieg, Donizetti, Gabrieli, Beethoven, and Strauss, the booklet says), occasionally recognizable, but more often drastically mutated.

And, of course, there's the more obvious lyric concept, an ancient Greek myth where Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and harvest goddess Demeter, is kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld, providing an allegory for the seasons and the annual renewal of fertility. This is literarily fruitful territory, and the lyrics (by Goese, I assume), are beautifully poetic.

One need not have any knowledge of any of this stuff -- classical music, Greek mythology, Neill's instrument, or the BAM production -- to enjoy this lushly gorgeous music. Any Bjork fan, for instance, would feel comfortable with the Minimalist loops of "Blackpool." - Steve Holtje


Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based poet and composer who is halfway through recording his five songs composed on texts from James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach with singer Kate Leahy and cellist Suzanne Mueller.