Larry Polansky: Guitar Noise, Piano Grace
by Seth Colter Walls | September 18, 2013
Composer, guitarist and professor Larry Polansky comes from the "American maverick" mold. As a classical-music personality, he's post-Charles Ives, post-John Cage -- and not surprisingly, he also collaborates with the last living Cage co-traveler, Christian Wolff.
So while he can write elegantly notated pieces, he naturally also loves a bit of noise in his mix. The 5/4 stomper "Ensembles of Note" works up a good bit of avant-rock intensity over the course of its seven minutes and change. And the 11/8 meter of "Tween (K-Tood #2)," a new piece written for the guitar quartet Zwerm, should appeal to fans of Sonic Youth's odd tunings. (Polansky's piece is actually written in multiple simultaneous key signatures, but the effect is somewhat similar to alt tunings.) It ends with a pretty gloriously strange 15-note chord, too.
The appended playlist starts off with 15 tracks featuring Polansky's recent pieces -- some of them pungent and quite brief -- that include guitar somewhere in the mix. The longest of these, an item titled "Ivtoo," initially presents the listener with a lush, acoustic-folk profile; the way the piece develops (into something a little more aggressive) is a delight. The bulk of these works come from the excellent album The World's Longest Melody, but there are also prime selections taken from the Four-Voice Canons album.
We end the playlist with a complete look at another, equally playful side of Polanksy's work: his major piano essay, Lonesome Road (The Crawford Variations). Sometimes waltzing in three keys at once (in the aptly titled variation "XLVII. Three Keys Waltz"), it also features stretches of atonality, as well as a bluesy feel that reveals Polansky's affection for jazz (see an early part of the work, like "IX. Unison"). Taken together, the guitar grind and cheerfully complex writing for piano offer complementary looks at a contemporary American master. Enjoy!