Tracy Silverman’s intriguingly titled Between the Kiss and the Chaos, the new recording from a musician who’s been described as “the greatest living exponent of the electric violin,” piqued my interest on several levels.
Released this month on the Delos label, the album features the esteemed classical ensemble, The Calder Quartet. Almost entirely a product of social media networking, it was funded largely by donations generated by Kickstarter in a digital campaign that made it possible for the Juilliard-trained violinist to bring his showpiece concerto to the mass public. In the credits, Silverman acknowledges the 113 friends and fans who donated to the project, “each of whom is directly responsible for making it possible for me to share my music with the world.”
Their faith in Silverman stems from his acclaimed background as a pioneer of the six-stringed electric violin, highlighted in performances that include John Adams’ The Dharma at Big Sur (the legendary composer has referred to Silverman’s playing as “a marvel of expressiveness”).
The name of the record comes from a song he wrote many years ago. In the liner notes, Silverman says, “I think it’s a good metaphor for the creative process, this tension between the kiss of inspiration and the compulsive chaos of the artistic struggle within people who are desperately trying to get it right on the canvas.”
Lovers of art will delight in the concept: well-known masterpieces by Michelangelo, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe, Vincent Van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso, as interpreted through a unique 21st-Century musical sensibility. A lofty endeavor for sure, as well as a huge challenge in mixing such diverse creative perspectives and somehow making it work.
And it does work, stunningly, in Silverman’s rendering of Picasso’s epochal allegory of war, Guernica, from 1937. No mere fiddlin’ around here: it’s an amazing piece, with Silverman brilliantly capturing the beating drums of conflict in music that, like its artistic inspiration, is anguished, pulsing, and mesmerizing. Silverman’s mastery of his multihued instrument — which can often be mistaken for a raging electric guitar — is virtuosic, shifting effortlessly from the torment of Guernica to the bouncy emotion of Matisse’s La Danse. (Shall we say that Matisse provides the kiss, while Picasso contributes the chaos?)
The second half of the album, “Axis and Orbits,” is all about “looping,” a signature technique for Silverman. A loop pedal records a section of music, which is then stopped and played back from the beginning, repeating endlessly, to be overdubbed and layered as the artist sees fit. In the last of the four sections that make up “Axis and Orbits,” called “Mojo Perpetuo,” one senses Silverman’s expertise. Its sharply staccato counterpoints comprise some of the “harmonic serendipities” he wished to impart in the piece.
Come to think of it, “perpetual mojo” serves as an apt description for this highly creative offering from a distinctly dynamic instrumentalist and composer.