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CD Feature/ Alex Shapiro: "Notes from the Kelp"

img  Tobias

As a composer in the 21st century, you have digital downloads, virtual record companies, multimedia presentations, email, chat, skype, online radio stations and social communities at your disposal. It is sometimes easy to forget that you can also use music to communicate.

Not so for Alex Shapiro. While she has embraced the wave of changes the internet has brought to her personally and her trade in general with arms wide open, her creed has always been that technology, electronics and fiberglass should never be treated as more than just one potential factor among many to bring joy to yourself and your listeners. Or maybe there are no borders between writing an email and a string quartet in her world – it all serves an exchange of emotions, thoughts, perspectives, arguments and impressions.

It is therefore a logical step to release this CD as an addendum, enhancement, deepening or aural continuation (take your pick) of her audiovisual blog “Notes from the Kelp”. Since moving to Malibu, California, Shapiro has shared private details, moments of bliss, musical ponderings and the adventures of her cat with visitors on the web – now she is giving away even more. “If music mirrors a composer’s personality, then you’ll know a lot about me through these pieces”, she says in the linernotes. One thing can however already be claimed without listening: It takes a lot of courage to leave the window to your heart this open.

How easy it is, after all, to hide behind abstractions and metaphors, how convenient to seek shelter in the shade of some obscure niche. Alex Shapiro hasn’t broken with tradition, but her approach to writing seems to be that at the end of the day, you’re not a minimalist, an atonalist, a serialist, a romantic or a neoclassicist, but a human being with very human desires. On the one hand, “For my Father”, a document of a gradual descent into dementia, is a dark episode, an eerie and questioning motive spiralling helplessly down into bitter acceptance. On the other, there is “Slipping”, a hilarious dance of styles for violin, harpsichord and “very mixed” percussion. And between these poles, there are no bone-dry theories, but lots of sensual shadings.

“Bioplasm”, her twelve-minute long flute quartet, for example, jumps into a kettle of primordial soup, dabbling and splashing in agitated rhythms, cloudy ambiances, dense textures and open outcries. The flutes combine into a mysterious surface area, all undulation, ripples and bubbles, obscuring the individual melodic lines into a surreal sort of audioplankton. On “Deep”, an electro-acoustic voyage with cinematic aspirations, she sends Leslie Lashinsky’s bassoon towards the centre of the earth, its goblinoid resonances drilling softly downward. “Phos Hilaron”, finally, is a harmonic statement of great purity and simplicity, a circularly drifting cloud of winds and pianos.

So, based on these works, what kind of a person is Alex Shapiro? Well, to give you a rough impression, how about this: She’s impulsive, romantic, curious, both educated and naive, humorous and serious, stern and silly, pensive and relaxed, complex and easy, fascinated by the small things yet with a wish to change the world, in love with nature but unafraid of technology, generous yet demanding and grateful for so much. Oh, and she probably likes to dance, but to the strangest of grooves.

It fits this description well that she sees the job of a composer both as the most lonely and social there is. Maybe this is also why she takes the aspect of communication so seriously. When you’ve spent so much time with yourself, it is the feedback from others that tells you that you’ve been producing something valuable – instead of egoistically indulging in a form of “socially accepted insanity”.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Alex Shapiro
Homepage: Notes from the Kelp - the Blog
Homepage: Innova Recordings

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