Audiophile Audition
Daniel Coombs
July 31, 2012

Anthony Paul De Ritis is the chair of the Department of Music and Multimedia Studies at Northeastern University. I have heard good things about De Ritis’s music and its reliance on an eclectic, crossover combination of sound sources as well his skill at writing captivating music that unfolds in real time. De Ritis had studied with Kyle Gann, with whom I am familiar and also philosophy with Richard Fleming. De Ritis is, clearly, a bit of a visionary, himself and I find all three of these pieces new, refreshing and fascinating to listen to.

Of the works heard here, Chords of Dust, is the oldest (from 1992) and carries a special significance for the composer. The title comes from that of a poem by his father, Paul Anthony De Ritis, who was a poet and inspiration to his son. There is a real sentimentality and reflective sound to the work. Chords of Dust is easily the most "traditional" sounding work on this program but the melodies are attractive, the orchestration is lush and the effect is quite nice. I found this work wholly engaging.

Legerdemain ("Slight of hand") stems from 1994 and was composed for the U.C. Berkeley Symphony and Jung-Ho Pak. This brilliantly ethereal, wispy work is also a good example of what became De Ritis technique for incorporating ever changing electronic sound sources into traditional acoustical textures; a model he acquired from studying the work of French composer Gilbert Amy. In Legerdemain, the electronic component is actually that of the orchestra modified during performance (in real time) by a reverb/delay unit and synthesizer. There are some chance elements in the score and the sound to the audience is frequently difficult to distinguish between that produced by the live instrumentalists or the synthesizer modified sounds just heard. In listening to the piece, it is frequently difficult to hear where the acoustical sources end and their electronically mixed antecedents begin; but that makes for some truly interesting and sonically vivid effects.

By far, though, the most unusual work here as well as the most compelling reason to get this recording is to experience Devolution, a "concerto" for "DJ" and orchestra – in this case the DJ is the true Renaissance man, Paul D. Miller (AKA "DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid"). Just the premise is utterly astonishing: a live turntable jockey with a vast array of mixing, digital processing devices and effects at his disposal plays with a live symphony orchestra. What makes this piece unique is almost exclusively the talents and skills of Miller (DJ Spooky). This is not at all some hokey mélange of hip-hop with orchestra. Miller is a very creative and talented musician/sound painter who has collaborated with Robert Wilson, Steve Reich, Yoko Ono and Ryuichi Sakamoto; among others. The collaboration between De Ritis's score and Miller's real time live manipulations and interjections makes this a work that is truly organic and can be heard differently each time it is performed. The resultant sounds – collision of styles, really – are all tonal but takes the listener through components that resemble minimalism, hip-hop, techno, aleotory and even some oddly appropriate direct quotes from Ravel's Bolero and the Beethoven 7th! (The use of those two excerpts is not really "tongue in cheek". The originals have a dark, somewhat mysterious presence that De Ritis uses – as have others before him.) There is almost no way to describe this music; it must be heard. Orchestra, live electronics and sampled environmental sounds at times fight for dominance and, mostly, blend together.

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the vision of director Gil Rose has become one of the nation's premiere new music ensembles where blazingly new and different music by some of today's most cutting edge composers get bold, convincing performances. I was not as familiar with Anthony Paul De Ritis (let alone DJ Spooky/Paul Miller) as I should have been entering into this recording. This is daring but brilliant music – in particular Devolution – and deserves to be heard. I should think that any lover of new music would really like this and most people would at least be transfixed by the creativity.