Compilations / Mixes
David Borden: Music For Amplified Keyboard Instruments
Those running Spectrum Spools have an uncanny gift for exhuming rare and historically important jewels from long ago, of which Music for Amplified Keyboard Instruments is a sterling example. Originally released in 1981 on the now-defunct Dutch label Red Records, the recording is an unsung masterpiece by Boston-born David Borden, a relatively underappreciated figure who can lay rightful claim to the labels American Minimalist composer and electronic music pioneer. A search through Borden's private archive of reel-to-reel tapes revealed the one safety master known to exist of the recording, a discovery that in turn has enabled Spectrum Spools to re-issue Music for Amplified Keyboard Instruments in a newly re-mastered form.
Now retired and residing in Ithaca, New York, Borden played a central role in the early development of electronic music. Among the things for which he's credited, he beta-tested Robert Moog's Modular Synthesizer systems and MiniMoog instruments and also formed the first all-synthesizer ensemble, Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company, in 1969. Borden's ties to American Minimalism are evident not only in the Glass-like patterns that emerge in the album material but in the very configuration of three musicians and six keyboard instruments used in the four pieces.
As one would expect from music realized exclusively using keyboard instruments, the material is densely layered and rich in counterpoint and timbral contrast. In the opening “Esty Point, Summer 1978,” Borden's intricately woven arrangement juxtaposes rapid bass patterns and slower treble melodies of a decidedly melancholy nature before blossoming into a trippy swirl of flute-like flutterings and kinetic rhythm patterns. Even more metronomic in design are the two parts included from Borden's large-scale “The Continuing Story of Counterpoint” project, a twelve-part cycle for synthesizers, acoustic instruments, and voice the composer worked on for more than eleven years. The longest of the album's four settings at approximately fourteen minutes each, “The Continuing Story of Counterpoint, Part Nine” and “The Continuing Story of Counterpoint, Part Six” unfold at a rapid-fire pace and overlay relentlessly churning bass patterns with effervescent melodies that chime and sparkle. Though the material requires the musicians to adhere to a rigid compositional structure (were they not to do so, the material would likely feel as if it's splintering apart), the performances are exuberant and infused with high energy.
While the repeating chord progression in “Enfield in Winter” does call to mind Glass's North Star organ miniatures, Borden's compositional approach proves to be more organic than Glass's when the material develops into unforeseen yet still natural territory. Of all the four pieces, however, it's “The Continuing Story Of Counterpoint, Part Six,” with its breakneck organ patterns, wherein the Glass influence is felt most markedly. The infiltration of such an influence into Borden's music might, however, be seen less as a matter of appropriation than of enthusiasm and excitement for a style that was then in its early stages. Influence considerations aside, Music for Amplified Keyboard Instruments is anything but paint-by-numbers music, no matter how precisely delineated its compositional form, and the listener comes away from the experience thoroughly dazzled.