Matthew Rosenblum (b. 1954)
Born in New York City, Matthew Rosenblum belongs to the Harry Partch and John Cage tradition of American composers -- not bound by any particular school, his music is a vivid and eclectic force that embraces jazz, rock, world-music, and ambient sounds as well as the classical repertory. He earned advanced degrees in music composition at the New England Conservatory of Music and Princeton University, and received numerous grants and awards, including a 1980 Rockefeller fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Composers Fellowship Grant in 1993. He currently teaches music at the University of Pittsburgh.
Also akin to Partch, Rosenblum is known for his work in constructing new scales and exploring differing systems of tuning. In his own words: "My current music uses two tuning systems, the normal twelve note equal tempered system, and a nineteen and twenty one note-to-the-octave "just" system I designed to be used in conjunction with the twelve note equal tempered system. When used in combination, the two tuning systems provide a wide variety of intervalic and harmonic possibilities in both just and equal tempered tunings, thus allowing for strong harmonic and stylistic contrasts. My music moves freely through passages and movements which use either altered or tempered tunings, or combinations of the two. My goal is to continue to explore ways in which seemingly separate musical voices and traditions may be woven together into a newly expressive whole."
It's hard to describe Rosenblum's music, but there's a comparison that has rooted itself in my mind. In William Gibson's Count Zero, the sequel to Neuromancer, one of the protagonists is charged with discovering the origin of an anonymous series of artworks. Similar to Joseph Cornell's famous boxes, they are compact, pan-cultural assemblages of various artifacts, beautifully self-contained and yet clearly all the work of one hand. Almost paradoxically, they seem to evoke both nostalgia and a haunting sense of belonging to a different world altogether, like castaways from an alternate future. In the end -- and let me interject a "spoiler" warning! -- it's discovered that the boxes are the work of an artificial intelligence abandoned in zero-gravity, welding together works of art from a tumbling world of discarded objects. Rosenblum's compositions remind me a bit of these boxes, distinct artistic images brought carefully into focus from the kaleidoscopic dazzle of postmodernism. He borrows freely from the musical history of all cultures; contemporary and traditional forms are allowed to cross-fertilize, and Western and Eastern influences are juxtaposed or conjoined vigorously with often striking results. Additionally, with its microtonal scales and unusual tunings, Rosenblum's work seems to contain an inherent strangeness on a structural level; we sense, if not actually comprehend, an organizational principle which is slightly off-center and yet obviously intelligent. And perhaps most importantly, like Gibson's boxes, his compositions are much more than the sum of their parts. Beneath all their syncretic trappings and bizarre fusions lies a powerful unifying principle, one guided by the wonder of constant discovery and a search for beauty in strange, new forms.
Maggies -- (1997). For spoken voice, sampler, and chamber orchestra, this piece incorporates a parody of Finnegans Wake.
The composer maintains a small Matthew Rosenblum Homepage, complete with a biography, reviews, and a discography.
PRISM chamber orchestra also maintains a page called The Music of Matthew Rosenblum.
Maggies is recorded by Composers Recordings, Inc, who have a very useful homepage. (CRI also deals with several other Joyce-inspired composers: Otto Luening, Fred Lerdahl, Tod Machover, Roger Reynolds, David Del Tredici, and many others.)
You may purchase Maggies online from Amazon.com below:
Rosenblum: Ancient Eyes
Audio CD / Released 1999