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COMBINES 2 — The Temper of Our Times

Just as Andy Warhol made art from a Campbell’s 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 anymore.

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.

Debbie Pearl

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