Friday, January 24, 2014

Violinist/Composer Dana Lyn's Aqualude: An Aquatic Adventure

The violinist/composer Dana Lyn is a Brooklyn based musician who late last year released a genre defying album titled  Aqualude, a musical suite of compositions that tell a story of a fantastical aquatic adventure with an underlying environmental message.  This instrumental suite combines rock rhythms and jazz-like improvisations with chamber music instrumentation. For lack of categorization some have labeled it Disney on crack.

 The music follows the adventures of a mythical boy who is magically transported through a whimsical undersea adventure, an Aqualude. The journey sets out on land in a Glacial territory that is showing signs of warming. A boy is thrown into the water by agitated flying carp. This unexpected journey requires no oxygen apparatus and  turns into an underwater fantasy becoming  an  amusement park-like diorama  complete with images of an albino mother octopus  judiciously protecting its eggs,  a magical branch ( given to him by the Octopus)  that allows the boy access to the an underwater cavern and  an encounter with a white whale that takes the boy on its back, diving to darkest depths of the ocean. The boy experiences a unique menagerie of fascinatingly diverse aquatic animals that he views while riding on a living carpet of near transparent Yeti crabs.

Composer/violinist Dana Lyn

 The allegory in Ms. Lyn’s work interrupts this otherwise playful journey, when the boy ultimately comes across an unsettling discovery; the existence of a robotic powered, man-made, energy generating machine at the ocean floor. The strangely out of place apparatus clandestinely disrupts the natural order of things in the ocean, causing unwelcome and life threatening consequences both underwater and on the earth above. The thermal energy generated by the machine jettisons the boy to the surface where he is eventually re-united with his distraught family. The boy has been permanently changed by his journey, whether it was real or imagined. He realizes he has unfinished business. He has been given a gift of understanding- presumably about the conspiratorial nature of greedy energy companies and their blatant misuse of natural resources-and he must take this enlightenment and use it for the greater good.  Was Ms. Lyn commissioned by the environmental group Greenpeace one might ask?

Angel Door

This moralistic tale is played out musically by Ms. Lyn and her fellow musicians Jonathan Goldberger on guitars, Clara Kennedy on cello, Mike McGinnis on clarinet and bass clarinet and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. Ms. Lyn skillfully composes the music that creates an aural image of the story she is relating. The rock orientated drum-driven frenzy of the flying fish in “Carping,” the loping chamber-like cello sounds of Clara Kennedy representing  the aging octopus, the sound of being suspended in the bubbling waters created beautifully by Ms. Lyn on violin and Mr. Goldberger’s electric guitar, all on ”Mother Octopus.” A fascinating study in how music can shape images in our minds.  

The music often mimics a sense of being emerged in the ocean’s depths, conveying a sense of being suspended from reality. Is this really happening or is it merely a fantastic dream? One can only imagine listening to this music under the influence of some psychotropic drug. 

The most identifiable melody in the suite is the “Yeti Crab Theme Song.”  The music starts out with Ms. Lyn on an instrument called an Angel Door. It is a musical sculpture piece, the creation of Shelby and Latham Gaines, a stringed instrument created by modifying an old wooden door and fitting it with strings. Originally made on commission from the actor/director Ethan Hawke for a play Clive, the sound it creates has an old music box quality. Mr. Goldberger plays an echo enhanced guitar ostinato over which Mr. McGinnis floats the buoyant sounds of his clarinet. Ms. Lyn and Ms. Kennedy weave intricate patterns with their strings as Mr. Sperrazza keeps the cadence of a muted march in the background. 

The first “Aqualude” (oddly there are two compositions with this title) is a short piece that feels like you are descending deep into the ocean in some enclosed diving bell. This leads into “Pyramid”  where the man-made, automaton-operated machine is discovered. Ms. Lyn and company create a sense of climax through a series of spiraling and ever ascending notes played in unison with her band. The boy returns to the surface on “The Snow in General” and is reunited with his family on the second “Aqualude,”  a somber piece of music that has the sound of a distant horn, a beacon leading you  out of a dense fog. The boy shares his new found knowledge with his family. The knowledge curiously supersedes any robust feeling of joy over his fortuitous return. The suite ends with “Yeti Sleeps” a poignantly played piece that has a melancholy flavor. The boy has an unsettling restlessness from his new found discovery. Was the voyage real or imagined?  Is his discovery of the dreaded machine something that requires his action?

Labels are pointless in music as each artist has a right to explore all possibilities wherever inspiration may take them with no regard to how it fits into some predetermined schema. Ms. Lyn has disregarded labels to tell a fantasy, an aquatic adventure that she has chosen as a vehicle to somehow speak to a greater problem, global warming. For the most part her efforts are a success. But the pairing of the fantasy and the message seem incongruous. Disney meets Exxon? Ms Lyn excels at instrumentally creating an aural underwater world of wonder and beauty. But when she attempts to attach a moralistic message to this fantasy her otherwise beautiful music seems to be insufficiently evocative in its musical portrayal of the real menace.
 Here is a you tube sample of Dana Lyn's violin work with Guitarist Kyle Sanna:

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