DAVID BORDEN – Music For Amplified Keyboard Instruments

Spectrum Spools

David Borden, Nurit Tilles, Paul Epstein: RMI Electra Piano, MiniMoogs, Modular Moogs

Out of brutal sincerity, let’s immediately declare that the lone David Borden track that really excites me is the fifth movement of The Continuing Story Of Counterpoint, featuring his son Gabriel cutting complicated guitar shapes inside a highly efficient propulsive mechanism. Other than that, to these ears Borden’s production epitomizes the specimen of composer gifted with unquestionable technical brilliance but lacking the ability of eliciting internal tremor. A pioneer, sure; still, not a musician whose records I would dry my bank account on (and – believe me – I have done that many times).

The bulk of Borden’s sonic cosmos stands somewhere between “well-rounded analog-sounding geometry” and “occasionally cheesy soundtrack for sports footage”. In a recent review, Wire’s deputy editor Frances Morgan – a writer known for imparting her wisdom on the subject of women in music journalism – did an excellent hype job by comparing the reissue of this lightweight record from 1981 to the rescuing of another presumed “classic” (namely Laurie Spiegel’s The Expanding Universe), in the meantime re-baptizing Mother Mallard’s LP Like A Duck To Water as Water Off A Duck’s Back – perhaps in unconscious response to someone advising a different line of work – and associating it to (drum roll, cymbal crash) Cluster “at their most pastoral”. Not too long ago, Borden had been mingling with selected heroes of today’s shallow electronica (all regular presences on the main pages of adventurously chic music magazines). That this accessible music is suddenly getting “official” attention tells everything, in spite of years of reissues (mainly by Cuneiform) having more or less failed to turn the Ithaca resident into a media-friendly entity.

Granted, there’s surely much worse around than these innocuously complex constructions, and I’d have no problem in spinning this all day, if necessary. Furthermore, the liners – illustrating the recording details while offering interesting anecdotes related to the period – are a pleasure to read. Speaking of the performance, what must be admired is the manual dexterity of the players; as far as I know, all of this stuff was in fact executed without external aids (in truth Epstein, who didn’t succeed in correctly learning a particular piece’s entirety, was “gently” fired by Borden after having omitted various notes, thus forcing his former employer to re-record).

This notwithstanding I’m sorry to report that, strained tendons or not, the famous “some folks got it, some folks don’t” adage is valid. Borden is by all means a respectable musician and a dedicated electronic craftsman, definitely able to teach something to the innumerable nonentities peddled as masterminds by the “specialized” press. However, a honest analysis of his output – including, of course, this very release – is all it takes to establish that genuinely stirring minimalism is made of something more than synthetic-sounding mathematical exercises with a few uncomplicated melodic designs as the icing on the cake.

Now, let me return to Music With Changing Parts. Which – with all due respect – was not conceived while jogging.

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