Beth Anderson – “Peachy Keen-O”

I was put on to this album through a review in a periodical. There was a Sound Poetry feature in The Wire a few years ago and the result was that I went and purchased “Peachy Keen-O” as a result. From iTunes of all places! So, an avant-garde album available to those who want to go too far to search for it. Well, what can you expect from this album …?

Beth Anderson (b. January 3, 1950, Lexington, Kentucky) is a composer of avant-garde works that have been performed all around the world and that have brought her much acclaim; she is also active as a critic, pianist and vocalist. Ms. Anderson earned half a PhD at New York University, majored in piano performance at the University of Kentucky from 1966-68 and earned her BA in music from the University of California in 1971. She studied further at Mills College in Oakland, California and earned her MFA in piano performance, 1973 and her MA in composition, 1974. She was co-editor of the publication Ear from 1973-79 and is currently a teacher at the Greenwich House Music School, New York. Over the years, Ms. Anderson has studied with Robert Ashley, Larry Austin, John Cage, and Terry Riley, among others. She is a pioneer in the field of text-sound music, which uses words and phonemes to make a kind of vocal-percussive music. So, to really pigeon hole this album – is it sound poetry?

peachy-keen-oFormed sound poetry, essentially, where as Henri Chopin focused more on the breath and primitive sounds, in Peachy Keen-O, Beth Anderson uses the fullest of ‘found syllables’ and vowel sounds. Such is the opening track, ‘Torero Piece’ – this is a track of repeated vowel sounds and pronounced vocals underlying a vintage sample of a well-to-do American lady eloquently trying to explain the love of a mother. This is one of the best examples of mother/daughter miscommunication that I have witnessed.

Peachy Keen-O is an electro-acoustic piece is for female voices, organ, electric guitar, vibraphone, large membranophones & metalophones, improvisatory dancers, peach light and pre-recorded tape. It is what Beth Anderson’s mother called “haunted house music”.

Tower of Power, the second track, is an organ piece and is a graphic score. The recording on this Download is the first performance. The ideal playback of this piece would be “as loud an amplitude as possible, using both your ears and your equipment to decide” according to Anderson.

The stand out track for me is “I Can’t Stand It” – as Anderson says, “When I first moved to New York I had a hard time getting used to how things were here and this piece is a direct response to that frustration. It was conceived for voice and drum set.” That is the genius of the piece – it is just a voice and drum – a really primitive, earthy feel to this track – as a cry for something simpler, more rustic.

However, the track that gets played on my show most often “Ocean, Motion, Mildew, Mind” is a Punk realization of “ommm”. The words begin “ocean, motion, mildew, mind” and continue “wishin’, Titian, swishin’, swine.”

Released in 1973, when Anderson was at the tender age of 23, this is a steady document of an an artist emerging from the early stages of academia and finding their own voice. Whether the road to find their own was ever completed …. I hope to find out.

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