by Brendan Howe
Growing up in Homer, Alaska, Conrad Winslow watched his parents build their log cabin in the woods from scratch—little did he know, those building blocks would shape and inspire his future as a composer.
As with building a log cabin that is to become a home, the world Winslow creates in his debut album The Perfect Nothing Catalog is significantly more emotionally involved than rendering walls of sound from various materials. The technical choices made in orchestrating the album are perhaps less relevant than the sensitivity with which the Cadillac Moon Ensemble and producer Aaron Roche execute them. Foot stomps and sawtooth waves interspersed with cello and flute are all well and good, but Winslow and Roche’s attention to detail—along with the ensemble’s agility—give them gravity, fire, adrenaline, and airy bliss.
Winslow originally composed The Perfect Nothing Catalog as an acoustic score in 2014, but says that he “always imagined it like an abstract radio play.” He recorded an acoustic version and asked Roche to “riff on these aural objects, process them in myriad ways.” Roche did just that with distortions and elements of musique concrète, lending the piece a subtle sense of narrative.
The title work is made up of 50 miniatures, each less than a minute long and cataloged by compositional approach: “tunes” are melodic lines, modulating and harmonizing themselves, “materials” are simply musical textures, “devices” are rhythmic vignettes, “controls” explore variations on a single parameter, and “code” layers the movements together in new ways.
Though a piece as meticulously organized as this may be expected to sound clinical, the end result is full of surprises. It is music of simultaneous—rather than reflective or whimsical—experience.
The other pieces on the album, Abiding Shapes, Ellipsis Rules, and Benediction, reveal the composer’s consistency in his craft. The entire album may be enjoyed either while sitting back in an armchair with a glass of wine or while painting a giant canvas on the living room floor.
The Perfect Nothing Catalog is available for pre-order through Innova.mu. It will be released on November 17, 2017.