Contemporary music isn’t for everyone, especially so when it includes electronica. That’s due in large part because not only do you have to deal with unfamiliar harmonies and strident dissonances, you also have to contend with the added layer of artificially created sounds. But if you were to put your preconceived notions and prejudices aside for a moment and just listen to this music, you might be in for a surprise. You still might not like what you hear, but you just might end up mesmerized with the bizarreness of it all — and perhaps surprised by what some of today’s composers come up with. There are, after all, a lot of creative minds writing music in the first quarter of the 21st century.
One of today’s most imaginative – and leading – composers is Brigham Young University’s Steven Ricks. Despite BYU’s decidedly conservative bent (to put it mildly), Ricks is in the forefront of today’s trends and one of the most daring and stimulating American composers. Ricks does his own thing. He doesn’t follow; instead, he forges ahead and sets new boundaries and pushes the limits of how the concept of music can be defined.
His new CD, Young American Inventions, taken from the title of one of the pieces on this disc, is a vibrant and aurally striking look into the 46-year-old composer’s world. The eight works on this recording were written between 1997–2014 and are mostly for a combination of traditional instruments with electronics. But there are also a couple of pieces just for conventional instruments as well as two that are strictly electroacoustic. The album shows the range of Ricks’ imagination as well as his mastery of electronics and his deep understanding of traditional instruments.
A couple of the works stand out. Waves/Particles from 2008 is an intricate weaving of live with recorded sound. It’s a well-crafted and well-conceived and executed work that is intoxicating in its effect. It envelops the listener and draws him into Ricks’ mystical, mysterious world. It was recorded in BYU’s de Jong Concert Hall and performed by members of Canyonlands New Music Ensemble: Carlton Vickers, flutes; Noriko Kishi, cello; and Jason Rabb, percussion. The University of Utah’s Morris Rosenzweig conducts.
The other piece on this disc that is memorable is the electroacoustic Ten Short Musical Thoughts from 2002. It’s a finely textured and richly woven work that blends sounds and text in a compelling and quite interesting fashion.
Ricks is a composer who has a lot to say and he knows exactly how to say it. You might not like what he comes up with, but he is without question a composer whose voice needs, and deserves, to be heard. His music is bold, forceful and challenging, yet also captivatingly poetic and lyrical.