If it weren't for his film scores, Michael Nyman might have remained a prophet without a public. Back in his salad days, after studying at London's Royal Academy of Music (under socialist composer Alan Bush) and at King's College (with early-music pioneer Thurston Dart), he worked largely as a critic, railing against academic orthodoxy and the rigid formalism of Stockhausen, Boulez, and other continental avant-gardists. He leaned more toward the kinder, gentler music of Cornelius Cardew and Philip Glass, coining the term "minimalism" to describe its modest gestures and limited materials, and in 1974 published a valuable survey of British postmodernism titled Experimental Music--Cage and Beyond, in which he urged young composers to be more eclectic, more relevant, more populist. Soon after that he formed his own band, modeled after Glass's and Steve Reich's. At first it specialized in arrangements of Baroque songs; these days it's a mix of traditional, medieval, and jazz instruments playing Nyman's distinctive compositions. Nyman can marshal an astonishing variety of elements, often juxtaposing them for programmatic purposes. Which is to say he makes a skillful film composer with a readily identifiable sound, demonstrated by his decade-long partnership with director Peter Greenaway and in his score for Jane Campion's The Piano. The Nyman sound--built on the repetitive, thudding bass line common to both rock and Baroque--can convey rage, simple conviviality, or ravishing lyricism. Now on their first American tour, Nyman and his band will play some of their greatest hits, including excerpts from The Draughtsman's Contract and The Piano, as well as selections from The Fall of Icarus, written for a collaborative venture with a choreographer and a video artist. Thursday, October 6, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 722-5463 or 663-1628.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Matt Anker.