Tuesday 21 September 2021

A very personal sound commentary: Tim Corpus' MMXX

Tim Corpus MMXX; Attacca Publishing

Tim Corpus MMXX; Attacca Publishing

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 September 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Contemporary American composer Tim Corpus explores the themes of 2020, public, political and personal, in a distinctive new album

Looking back 2020 was an eventful year, not just in terms of the pandemic but in politics, society and much else besides. During the year, American composer Tim Corpus was also dealing with major changes in his career and a divorce, and one of his responses was to write the music for a highly personal album, MMXX which is available via Bandcamp. Featuring performances by Tim Corpus alongside Timothy Archbold (cello), Alyssa Arrigo (piano), Matthew Bronstein (French horn), Chris Davis (trumpet), and Derek Fitting (trumpet), MMXX features ten tracks which explicitly or implicitly explore themes from 2020.

Corpus was born in the Chicago area and studied percussion at Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and composition at The Hartt School at the University of Hartford. As a composer his work has included classical works alongside film scores, commercials and sound design for the podcast She the People. But, like many young artists, Corpus has a diverse career in the arts and is also an arts administrator, as well as performing percussion, guitar and bass guitar.

The titles of the ten pieces on MMXX all hint at the themes of the album, exploring the various events (personal and public) that took place during the year, though sometimes tangentially. So we have 'Grandma's Piano', 'Is this Science Fiction?', 'Is Today, Tuesday, Friday or Saturday?', 'See the Sun', 'Screen Time', 'This is What Democracy Looks Like', 'Elegy for Justice', 'Cabin Fever', 'Saying Goodbye', and 'Together Again'. Some titles are highly evocative, but Corpus doesn't do more than give us the title, it is up to us to listen.

The music has a strong electronic feel to it, Corpus mixes his live musicians with other elements whether found objects or synthesised and often in a way which approaches collage. He is fond of multi-layering, creating different elements and then binding them together. When I was listening, I kept coming back to the idea of dance music; this is certainly a long way from a dance album and sometimes you'd have difficulty trying to get down and dirty on the dance floor with these tracks. But. Corpus has a fondness for background riffs and electronica which suggest, somewhere, a fondness for dance music. Though on this disc it is simply one element amongst many.

We begin in a way which is highly deceptive, just a piano. 'Grandma's Piano' features a very traditional, almost nostalgic little piece, and only gradually does Corpus bring on other elements to the music and the ambient atmospheric backdrop moves the piece from nostalgia to something rather eerie. From then on, it is a far wilder ride but at the end with 'Together Again', the music finally unwinds and seems to almost, but not quite, return to the nostalgia of the beginning.

Corpus' collage approach is rather filmic at times, as if he had images playing in his head, and his is not shy of drama. Often instead of dissolving, the scenes crash into each other. 'This is What Democracy Looks Like' mixes the musical elements with found sound, creating an imaginative collage which we presume is inspired by the events in the USA in 2020, but Corpus moves beyond this, and the chanting of the crowd is gradually re-mixed to form a rhythmic backdrop to the music. Whilst 'Elegy For Justice' is somewhat stark, made up of just an electric guitar riff and white noise, as if nothing more were possible. Throughout the individual solo elements from the instrumentalists move in and out of focus, with some superb individual performances which blend into the whole.

This is a striking disc where Corpus, wonderfully supported by his fellow musicians, has taken a series of diverse elements and collaged them into a series of pieces which form a very personal sound commentary on 2020.

Timothy Corpus - MMXX
Alyssa Arrigo, Tim Archbold, Matthew Bronstein, Derek Fitting, Chris Davis, and Tim Corpus

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