|Reprinted from Stereophile
Phillip Kent Bimstein
Garland Hirschi's Cows
Phillip Kent Bimstein, digital samplers/editors; Modern Mandolin Quartet (Mike Marshall, Dana Rath, mandolins; Paul Binkley, mandola; John Imholz, mandocello); Turtle Island String Quartet (Darol Anger, Tracy Silverman, violins; Danny Seidenberg, viola; Mark Summer, cello); Garland Hirschi, Verdel Jake, Vivienne Jake, Lucille Jake, voices
Starkland 205 (CD). 1996. Phillip Bimstein, prod. and eng. ???. TT:48:40
"You wanna know a little 'bout. A little bit about. You wanna know a little 'bout. A little bit about. You wanna know a little 'bout. A little bit about. A little bit about my cows, huh?"
No, it's not "Rappin' Mr. Green Jeans," though it could be. These sampler-manipulated spoken strains are the opening words of Phillip Kent Bimstein's Garland Hirschi's Cows, the centerpiece of the CD of the same name. Any way you cut it, Bimstein is ... er ... outstanding in his field.
As few before him have, this Springdale, Utah composer--who, in the '80s, led the new-wave band Phil 'n' the Blanks--has used digital-sampling technology to tell wry and moving stories, and to elevate the mundane to the level of high art. And while there are limitations to his tools, Bimstein's fertile imagination shrinks them to near invisibility.
The 12-minute title work is simply eloquent. Inspired by the sounds of cows mooing in the pasture next door, Bimstein interviewed their owner, farmer Garland C. Hirschi, and ended up in a sonic goldmine. Hirschi's speech is music in itself. His accent, phrasing, and vocal rhythms, along with the sounds of the cows, became the germs of a fascinating three-"moovement" piece that won Bimstein Austria's Prix Ars Electronica in 1992.
Bimstein's brilliance is in creating forms that complement and musically evolve the rhythmic and melodic contours of these vocal snippets, and in somehow demonstrating their relationships to the fundamentals of the American musical language. The cut-and-paste vocal-snippet first movement becomes a hilarious electromechanical hoedown that serves as an introduction to the story and as the cornerstone of Bimstein's craft. In the second movement he shifts gears, touchingly setting long lines of Hirschi discussing his family's dependence on the cows to slow, lyrical, noble musical lines. The third movement, featuring sampled and harmonized cow "vocals" and bits of Hirschi's discourse on the nature of the cows' sounds, becomes an animated, whimsical circus when combined with sampled percussion, woodwinds, and strings, all woven together with thematic fragments from the entire piece.
But Cows is just the start. In "The Louie Louie Variations," played to spry and sleek effect by the Modern Mandolin Quartet, Bimstein generates permutations of the rock staple akin to the way bassist Charlie Haden approaches a tune in an Ornette Coleman piece--referring to and elaborating on the rhythmic impulses and chord changes without dwelling on them or, often, even stating them outright.
Another surprise is "Dark Winds Rising," a simple yet strikingly moving work for tape and string quartet (here, the Turtle Island String Quartet) that uses the narrative of three members of the Jake family of the Kaibab Paiute Reservation wrestling with the intrusion of a proposed toxic-waste incinerator onto their lands. The result is a profound showcasing of deeply felt emotions fueled by traditions at odds with such reckless exploitation of the land. Bimstein succeeds in creating music that amplifies without overshadowing the strong verbal content. Stylistically, "Dark Winds Rising" strongly reflects Native American musical traditions. It's a powerful, original statement of traditional cultures in resistance.
"The Door" is as brilliantly original as "Garland Hirschi's Cows." The actual door to Bimstein's studio (the source of his samples) proves to be one hell of an instrument. Exploiting the door's unique sonic properties and using the sampler to trigger them, Bimstein spins a witty, funky, and oblique piece that recalls the skill, virtuosity, tone, and extended technique of such jazz-trombone frontiersmen as Albert Mangelsdorff, Julian Priester, and George Lewis. By striking chords on the sampler, Bimstein unleashes choruses of convoluted sound. He sets up funky grooves and stretched, sci-fi hi-fi moments that are something of a surreal tightrope act. It's hilarious.
Bimstein has the vision to see the potential of his sonic world, and the range and musicality to meaningfully develop those resources without merely repeating himself. Here is a talent to watch.
-- Daniel Buckley