Eric Lyon - Red Velvet

I’m very curious, and interested to know, ah, your ideas…

In a 1971 lecture on Moment-Forming and Integration, (later published in Stockhausen on Music) Karlheinz Stockhausen summarized his musical system, moment form, by reading from a poem by William Blake: “He who kisses the Joy as it flies / Lives in Eternity’s Sunrise.” Stockhausen’s moment form is a psychological sum of “beauty and shit” as AGF might put it. He was interested in a textural, compositional, and contextual soup of Joycian abrupt changes, where the disparate elements in the work don’t move progressively; they jump, skitter, and blend in multiplicity and aesthetic diversity.

Eric Lyon’s Red Velvet takes this Zen-like mode of listening – “the Joy as it flies” – and stretches it by stitching humor and calculated abandon into works that leap happily across stylistic divides, while still managing a surprising and compelling capacity for narrative. This music, however synthetic, marks its discourse with realism. This is music for our times, really: self-aware postmodern commentary, scatterbrain tangents of haunting millennial choirs bleeding into 80s dance-pop, beauty, silence, computer chip dissonance, and the acute cynicism of a terrified but enamored, global, and modern people – a people who are culturally connected for better or worse in a continuum somewhere between McDonalds homogeneity and Zen detachment.

But I just said to myself, ‘why not?’

Butter, from Red Velvet, begins like some grand dive off a 28th century Tokyo skyscraper with a whirl of twisted synthesis and hyperactive textural modulations, jumping and sliding from hectic to serene and back again before offering the simple rationale: “why not?” So what’s the overall effect? Simply put, Red Velvet compels many modes of listening. Lyon’s music all but requires an active and studied listen, not unlike the concentration involved in soaking in all layers of a four voice Bach fugue for example. Although Red Velvet sometimes engages the sort of polyphonic vertical listening Bach’s music is best suited for, the music overall is a lateral experience. One moment may stimulate a mode of listening usually associated with the extreme gestural minimalism of Bernhard Günter. After a short time in that sound world – usually just enough to establish the musical setting – a typically graceful transition will then, for example, spring the music into something requiring a mode of listening usually associated with the noise-metal band Black Dice.

The real magic of Lyon’s compositions lies in these transitions: the juxtapositions inform and quite radically transform what might otherwise be a comfortable or traditional listening experience. And over time an overall aesthetic impression of the piece emerges, as in Stockhausen’s moment form. That overall impression has, for me, continually proved to be restless, unfixed, and hard to qualify. In American Pioneers: Ives to Cage and Beyond Alan Rich describes the experience of listening to La Monte Young’s The Well Tuned Piano as “a continuous meditation across a flood of images. Hearing the work properly,” he continues, “is possible only by disconnecting oneself with the expectations of classical harmonies such as Imperial Bösendorfers [the piano Young’s piece was conceived on] are wont to produce. Freely associating, one hears instead virtually the entire range of worldwide musical experience.” Red Velvet clearly encourages this sort of free association, and the spectrum of musical experience Lyon pans across during the tenure of his recording is dramatically far-reaching and rewarding in its many facets.

Red Velvet
Eric Lyon