Review of No Home of the Mind Album by Bing & Ruth

As a composer of "new music" (synonymous to "contemporary classical music" in my circles), I am an avid fan of Bing & Ruth's influences, Steve Reich and John Cage.  Bing & Ruth claim that their brand of music is "minimalist" (I would call it postminimalist), and it is true that it is a descendant of Reich, Riley, Glass, and Young (the "big 4" of minimalist composers). The album is very polished and carries with it a poetic academicism, the type that wins competitions though I am sad to say that the album falls short musically.

Bing & Ruth No Home of the Mind Album

The piano motives at the beginning of each piece are enticing, and start each song off very well. However, the piano does not increase or decrease in intensity, change tone/harmony, or send us completely into the dream state that "vertical time" creates (as in the "big 4" 's music).  The music languishes in its original motives, without movement, stasis, calm, disturbance-without anything and without that anything's opposite. It borders on the bland.

Take what I say with a large grain of salt.  Most of this review is the academic in me speaking.  For those of you new to this type of music, here is what I believe will help you: imagine a film score that is polished and melancholic, developed over large expanses of time, and with a certain thoughtfulness and detachment.  Imagine using that music to underscore your life, like unflavored yogurt-adding consistency and taking on the flavor with which your life experience is colored.  If that is something that you wish to have in your life-a soundtrack that will add some peace, but not too much calm, and a certain spacious loneliness-then this album is right up your alley.  For someone who is an avid fan of minimalism, post-minimalism, and avant-garde music, this is an under-ripened fruit.  

Instead of allowing us to bask in the piano motives and double bass sonorities, we are enveloped by a wash of reverb and delay effects.  These effects are of high-quality resolution and production, but this does not mean that the sea of reverb and delay is successful.  The sound world of each track quickly turns into essentially a completely wet signal of a reverb or delay plugin.  The motion is lost, but the effects are mixed so highly that spaciousness is sacrificed and washed out.  

The form of each track is reminiscent of both the preceding one and the following one: piano, to washout with bass sounds, to piano; and while this is cohesive, it makes the tracks repetitive.  Yes, I know that repetition is the key vehicle of minimalism.  But, not all repetition functions well.  Not all repetition achieves the transformation of the listener.

The best track on this album, "To All It", strays from the format of ever-running piano lines and uses block chords to provide the structural, harmonic, and rhythmic columns.  It still does lead further into more excessive reverb and delay, but it is a nice reprieve.

I think this album would be an amazing success if it were an installation at a gallery-inviting this ensemble to play in a gallery where people can walk around them, enter, exit, view visual art, and perhaps treat the ensemble as visual art (in addition to sonic).  This seems like the capture of an experience, but I wish I could enjoy that experience first-hand.  This makes me want to go out and see art.  This album is very polished, but not the right format.

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