Offshore — CD Review

Troy Dan Warburton — Paris Transatlantic Magazine — June 2006

After postminimalism, postmodernism? (Oh no, not again / I’m stuck with a valuable friend / “I’m happy, hope you’re happy too”..) I suppose you’re waiting for a definition.. forget it, mate. Though I was once described as a “postmodern critic” by Ben Watson (and in Benspeak “postmodern” is roughly equivalent to pedophile or serial killer – I was duly flattered), I’m not going to open that old can o’ worms again. But San Diego-based Joseph Waters’ brief manifesto accompanying this collection of six chamber works for instruments and live electronics, is worth quoting: “I am,” he writes, “by necessity a populist composer, committed to the idea that there needs to be a solid connection between artists, who through their explorations inevitably become experts steeped in the history and subtlety of culture, and the everyday world of commercial television, junk food, crass evangelism, as well as practical genius, that comprises the contemporary cultural landscape. It is my self-ordained role, as populist, to attempt to understand this culture, to engage it, and to make love with it.” Sordid images of fucking Tammi Bakker aside, you might expect from the above that Waters’ music is (yet another) patchwork of crappy jingles and “provocative” soundbites. Far from it: he’s steeped in Western classical music tradition, and (unlike Belinda Reynolds, see above) his compositions explicitly reference European models, including Debussy and Messiaen (I’d also add some of the rotting flowers of late Romanticism like early Richard Strauss and early Schoenberg), but the incorporation of live electronics – sampled and treated field recordings, for the most part – transports turn of the (20th) century Paris / Vienna across the other side of the planet and slams it down in today’s sunny Southern California. It’s a curious combination – imagine Fennesz jamming along with Verklaerte Nacht.. wouldn’t that qualify as postmodern? – but Waters somehow manages to bring it off, assisted in no small part by an absolutely superb recording. It’s also, at times, ravishingly beautiful – unlike Reynolds’ music, which simply strikes me as pretty – if a leeetle on the sweet side. But, hey, San Diego’s supposed to be a really cool place. Why the hell would Brian Ferneyhough stay there so long if it wasn’t?–DW