Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Caux’s The Colors of the Prism, the Mechanics of Time

Even for persistently un-commercial avant-garde classical music, New York has been the city of opportunity. Granted, composers might not make their fortunes here. For instance, Steve Reich made better bread driving a city cab than from his academic gig, but in New York he was able to mount performances of his music. Drawing on the work of her late husband Daniel Caux, music documentarian Jacqueline Caux surveys American contemporary classical/New Music and related developments in The Colors of the Prism, the Mechanics of Time, which opens this Friday in New York at the Anthology Film Archives.

While Daniel Caux serves as Prism’s primary narrator and analyst, the film starts at the source with the archival voice of John Cage. From Cage, the Cauxes segue to some of the most prolific and uncompromising composers of the mid-to-late Twentieth Century and early 2000’s. Granted, the music of some can be difficult to embrace, such as Pauline Oliveros and his radically recontextualized accordion. For the most part though, Prism’s music is quite shrewdly selected. Though to an extent, Steve Reich’s Music for Eighteen Musicians is exactly the sort of cyclical pulsing we might anticipate, but its insinuating rhythmic drive and crisp accessibility will surprise many.

Despite its more challenging harmonics, the dramatic character and melodic structure of Meredith Monk’s vocal compositions will also keep viewers engaged. As arguably the best known figure in Prism, Philip Glass presents some appropriately representative chamber compositions that will safely reassure viewers largely familiar with the composer through his film scores.

After thoroughly acclimating viewers to Contemporary classical (or whatever term one might prefer), Prism takes an apparent third act detour to Detroit, introducing local DJ Richie Hawtin, who spins under the handle Plastikman. Yet, the Cauxes subtly tie it all together, explicitly comparing the trance like effect of both styles of music. Although, it is not explicitly stated, jazz acts as a missing link between the two, considering Hawtin’s professed Miles Davis influences and Cage’s formative interest in John Coltrane, expressed earlier in the film.

Probably no feat of spectacular daring will be sufficient to convince many movie-goers Prism is a film for general audiences, yet it most certainly is. The Cauxes take this music seriously and present it in a deliberately appealing manner. A thoughtful and often poetic film, Prism opens this Friday (6/17) in New York at the Anthology Film Archives.