Alvin Curran/Reinier van Houdt ~ Dead Beats

Order and chaos. We usually think of them in manicheistic terms, as fundamentally incompatible states that are mutually annulling, extending that same logic to the relationship between the avant-garde and tradition. Dead Beats relies on that contrasting setup to carry out its demolition by means of a haphazard melodic flow that softly, even weakly, states: anarchy is order. “Inner Cities”, which started out as a single piano piece and grew into a 12-piece, 6-hour long musical cycle, twists and turns into the psychic landscape of composer Alvin Curran, full of people and places all over Europe and the US, outlined with events so fantastic they could only belong to the mundane (“to help Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik get an introduction to the Pope”). It is not that we contain multitudes, but that multitudes contain us, the impossibility of our singularity dispersed among the memories that cling to every other object and every other subject, all that matter we continually shed and which is perfectly layered into dust with the passing of time.

On the other side, “Dead Beats” parts from a classicality ironically named – the hints of traditional structures that do not behave responsibly, the subtle suggestion of uselessness’ supreme value, rules in the service of nothing in particular, or in other words, sheer play. The two pieces superficially contrast with each other as formal opposites, but both of them tend towards uncertainty, towards falling apart and rebuilding themselves anew, wielding spontaneous emotions (somber severity, estrangement, and hope in the first track; playfulness, tension, and wonder in the second) to gel together disparate aural experiences. Heavy, expressionist chords blast away into dramatic, romantic harmony, a simple melody suddenly transforms into ambient diffusion – structures revolt like dust falling back in seemingly identical yet completely different patterns, the intense fragmentation of perception and reasoning stumbles into said patterns as if they had a reason. Order becomes an outcome of chance, but the experience of it is made only possible by the thought of an underlying system.

Reinier van Houdt’s playing perfectly conveys this anarchic spirit, the feeling of taking the entirely wrong steps and yet arriving at the chosen destination, the unseen object of desire. “Inner Cities”, which in this recording bears the subtitle “9-11-01”, seems immersed in uncertainty, with van Houdt laying out the piece as if he was, like us, listening to it for the first time. Yet the uncertainty also recedes and stable forms emerge, whereas in “Dead Beats” the flow moves in the opposite direction, with certainty sometimes going missing, an absence that beautifully glows from beyond the patterns, unexpectedly coming back in jazzy or in classicist phrases. Van Houdt seems very sure of where he’s taking us, and it is in this contrast where we can realize just how much that underlying system is mostly equivalent to an act of faith. It is order, and yet we are far from being in control. That means, to retake the initial thread, that it all naturally falls into place, that the fragments need no external referents, that there is no opposition between those two terms but continuity, complementarity, a (chance) game of presence and absence. “Dead Beats Part V” sounds like van Houdt is just making things up on the go, its zigzagging rhythm blundering around ragtime like a drunken Nancarrow player piano, a cartesian nightmare in which we are only human, we are all just dead beats accidentally coming in at the right time, at least every now and then, and that’s OK. (David Murrieta Flores)

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