— The Temper of Our Times
as Andy Warhol made art from a Campbells Soup can, Perry Botkin
makes music from the otherwise aurally mundane. In his second CD, Botkin
creates an omni-orchestra, where everyday sounds (from spoken words to
breaking glass to a telephone answering machine) join synthesizers and
percussion loops center stage. The title COMBINES II, taken from Robert
Rauchenberg's collage work evokes the multi-layered spirit of a musical
collage. We never know what's coming next. There are no rules. Prepare
to be stretched beyond your musical expectations.
What makes a sound musical, anyway? Or a black line on an otherwise empty
canvas museum-worthy? In the realm of art, it's context. Juxtaposition.
We're accustomed to hearing music played by a certain subset of instruments.
Or sung by the human voice. But Botkin believes all sound is music. He
hears melody and rhythm in the spoken word. He manipulates, chops, elongates,
and repeats words, "juxtaposing" them as he does other instruments
in his electronic orchestra. The result is a classical movement-like form
that pushes the envelope of theme and variation.
In the opening piece, a woman laughs and says "What Difference Does
It Make?" Eerie dissonant synthesizer pads are dotted by people introducing
themselves. Voices are truncated and treated as percussion instruments.
The laughter becomes a rhythmic riff. The words evoke pictures. The conscious
mind floods with visual imagery while the unconscious remains engaged
by the purely tonal aspects. The impact is powerful.
And then there's Botkin's musical wit. "Bugle Call Variations"
is a shrewd and amusing cacaphony. The familiar "wake-up" strains
of "Reveille" are underscored by minor dissonant synth patterns,
peppered with shouts of a drill sargeant. The sarcasm goes deep. Then
as somber "Taps" is played in tight dissonance slightly out
of sync, we don't know what to think. But we know we're not in Kansas
This composer's broad palette of sound also evokes deep insights into
the human condition. "Dialogue For Answering Machines (Wait For The
Beep)" is a penetrating look into our attempts to communicate in
a world laden with machines designed to keep us connected. Unfortunately,
the more we rely on machines, the more we feel disconnected. The recurring
lament, "Wait for the beep", speaks to our isolation. Behind
a cheerfully sung outgoing message lingers the gnawing truth that to "reach
out and touch someone" there needs to actually be another "someone"
there. And as art imitates life, the composer is communicating this idea
alone in his studio through his own machines. The irony speaks volumes.
"Swing Loops" uses samples from Botkin's original electronic
Big Band project composed several years ago and never released. His fascination
with the Swing Era is also heard in the piece, "Dad", an homage
to his father. Perry Botkin, Sr. was Bing Crosby's guitar accompanist
for twenty-five years and one of Hollywood's top studio musicians. The
guitar, banjo, lute, ukulele, and voice parts are all sampled from his
father's old recordings.
Combines 2 demands our attention. Easy listening, it's not. Active listening,
absolutely. By weaving familiar sounds into complex musical tapestries,
Perry Botkin's music unleashes our visual imagination and gives us a deeper
look at ourselves.