COMBINES — Five Electronic Essays


The music of Perry Botkin is unclassifiable. But this is merely a truism. Today all music is unclassifiable. What, for example, do we mean by "serious music?" — Beethoven or Duke Ellington? How do we characterize pop music? Rock? Rap? Ethnic? Folk? Jazz? As mere entertainment? Non-art? Non-serious?

André Previn put it well: "If classical music is serious, then what is jazz? — Funny?"

Perry Botkin's new compositions are certifiably electronic. But in his case, Marshall McLuhan is dead wrong: not the medium, but the message. The musical message. And what a message it is! Botkin's music is exploratory and wildly romantic — romantic in the broader sense as defined in The New Harvard Musical Dictionary: "...the uncontrolled play of the individual creative imagination, with resulting connotations of the highly idiosyncratic and even the fantastic."

Botkin follows nobody's rules. He uses any technique that strikes his musical fancy. He is not afraid to utilize standard everyday synthesizers: Roland, Yamaha, Akai Samplers, et. al., the kinds of sounds you hear everyday on any Pop, Rock, or New Age radio station. But he uses these instruments in his own way. A highly personal way. An intuitive way. (Dare I say it?) In a serious way.

Everything is grist for his musical mill: 12-tone melodies, consonance vs. dissonance, jagged driving rhythms, common and uncommon harmonies, free counterpoint, odd intervals, mirror inversions and retrograde devices — strange timbres, bizarre vocal samples, snatches of modernist poetry — along with touches of Jazz, fragments of Rock, thunderous symphonic passages, and (occasionally) even moments of lyricism.
In expression and form, his musical compositions remind one of Robert Rauschenberg's "combines," i.e., a mixture of photomontage and silk-screen techniques. Yet Botkin's musical style is dramatic, or theatrical. Perhaps even ultra-theatrical. A glance at his titles is revealing:

Women Who Won't Give You The Time of Day
22 Machines
Auto Erotica
Conversation on the Citizen Band

None of these compositions can be called "easy listening." As with all unconventional music, they require a bit of effort on the part of the listener. For Botkin has not opted to seduce the listener with attractive tunes dressed in derivative harmonies. He has chosen "to follow his inclinations rather than to make his way," as Talleyrand, the French statesman, advised.

Not that he has failed to "make his way" through the commercial Hollywood musical jungle--as numerous hit records, TV and Film scores, Grammy awards, Academy Award nominations, etc., amply demonstrate. And merely to mention the Theme from "The Young and The Restless" or "Bless the Beasts and Children" should put an end to any questions about his ability to handle a melody.

But beware! This CD represents a new Perry Botkin.

You will hear no "Young and Restless" themes in these works. And no monotonous minimalist loops, rigid mathematical systems, or New Age meanderings. His music is daring and original — emotional, uninhibited, explosive, enigmatic, off-center! I would call him an American Original, influenced to some degree by the John Cage "every-sound-is-music" philosophy, and to some extent by the dream-like (hallucinatory?) musical world of Charles Ives.

However futile the attempt to classify it, this innovative, exciting new music deserves to reach a large, varied audience. It should appeal to "serious" and "pop" listeners alike. (A false dichotomy one hopes will soon die out.)

But all of this hardly matters. The great French teacher of music, Nadia Boulanger, put it best: "What matters is being oneself."

With these new musical works, Perry Botkin has achieved this elusive goal. He has succeeded in being himself.

No more can be asked of a creative artist.

James Harbert


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