MOE: Superhero. Eight Point Turn. Kick & Ride.
Robert Schulz (drum set); Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose.
BMOPsound 1021 TT: 55:29.

Fascinatin' rhythm. Eric Moe, a composition prof at the University of Pittsburgh, also performs as a pianist of the out-of-the-way and the avant-garde. All three works here prominently feature the drum set, with Kick & Ride in effect a concerto.

I confess that most of this music has flown over my head, not because I don't know what Moe is doing, but because I don't know why he does it or what effect he wants to make. This music will take me some time to crack. I can, however, list some characteristics.

Harmonically, the music is no more difficult than Bartók. The pieces usually take an aggressive stance. There's not a lot of dynamic contrast. Moe chiefly concerns himself with linear independence of each part, with the goal of generating polyrhythms. Ostinatos and near-ostinatos take up notable space, but you can't call the music Minimalist, although Steve Reich's notion of "process music" (that is, music that as it goes along works out a given process -- phasing, for example) seems to apply, at least a little. Moe achieves a high degree of independence, to the extent that some instruments seem somewhat untethered to the beat, although the liner notes assure us that 99.9% of the rhythms are precisely notated.

But I sense a dimension beyond the technical, inaccessible to me, but hinted at by the score titles. According to the liner notes, Eight Point Turn memorializes a near-catastrophic Jeep accident the composer and a load of friends survived in the mountains. I hear nothing in the music that leads me to picture or feel it. The same with Superhero, a meditation on a major pattern in heroic narratives. The movements bear the titles "Learning to Fly," "Early Loss," "Rescuing a Planet in Distress," "Existential Crisis (What's It All For?)," and "Showdown with Evil Twin." Again, nothing in the music, as far as I can tell, leads you to those titles, and nothing in the titles really explains much about the music.

The one piece I sort of get is Kick & Ride, mostly because it's more abstract, a bit more relaxed, and I can follow the musical argument more easily. Drum styles from African to surfer to swing to bop pass before us. Indeed, the second movement opens with the famous drum lick from the surfer classic "Wipeout." Moe even inserts a bit of drama, which makes you wonder how things will work out.

The drum soloist, Robert Schulz, amazes with all the colors he can charm out of untuned percussion, but Rose and the BMOP players amaze no less. Moe's rhythms are not only complex in themselves, their relationship to each other is precise with a texture. BMOP plays incredibly tight.

Again, I have very little idea what any of this music means, but it interests me enough to want to listen several more times.

S.G.S. (April 2012)