Matthew Guerrieri
August 14, 2012

Questions of "real" or "fake" are dialectically put aside on the Boston Modern Orchestra Project's new recording of music by Anthony De Ritis, music in which, in a way, everything is real and fake all at the same time. Or, more precisely: this is music which is constantly, enthusiastically directing your attention to the materials out of which it’s fashioned. The manufactured nature of music, which the classical music tradition tries to misdirect away with notions of transcendence and sublimity, is here part of the whole point.

It's most obvious on the title track, Devolution, a 2004 concerto for turntables (manned by Paul D. Miller, a.k.a. DJ Spooky) and orchestra. Using warhorses as familiar as Ravel's Bolero and Beethoven's Seventh as fodder for sampling and remixing (by soloist and ensemble alike) fairly ensures that the manipulations are going to be noticeable, the fragments effortlessly grabbing one’s attention. But De Ritis has a knack for translating some measure of that composerly prerogative into a listener’s experience as well; Devolution is a musical evocation of the tactile malleability of music itself, the finished product explicitly indistinguishable from the act of assembling the parts. (The performance, under the direction of Gil Rose, is a blast, hitting the score's marks with a kind of joyfully volatile precision.)

But the older works on the recording already show hints of that process as well. Legerdemain, from 1994, mixes orchestral and computerized sounds, but in such a way that the boundaries are thoroughly blurred: Are those strings or a string pad? Oscillators or flutter-tonguing? On record, untangling the two is even more difficult, and one instead notices the score's miscellany of dialects, flipping through expressionist angst and cinematic thrills in equal measure, a stylistic salmagundi to match the means of production. 1992's Clouds of Dust seems more straightforward, a tone poem inspired by the World War II memories of De Ritis's father, but even here, the elements become noticeable as elements: the decorous march echoes, the mournful chorales, the Copland-esque optimism, the familiar toolbox for evoking the period and the event—but the arrangement positioned somewhere between those standard semiotic signals and a commentary on the act of signaling.

All three works take as their starting point some form of musical détente—between the concert hall and the dance club, or between instruments and electronics, or between the power of experience and the power of cliché. Whether or not such treaties need to be arranged anymore is debatable, but De Ritis has a flair for the negotiations. This is music that enjoys getting down to brass tacks, and noticing just how shiny they are, and how sharp.