I've long been a devotee of Erling Wold's work, as the guy's an American original, someone who's taken the esteemed staples of classical music and opera into the fevered post-Industrial Era and its oscillating madhouse of wildly fluctuating artistic, ethical, spiritual, and political aesthetics, morphing and re-morphing as though a sonic distillation of Rupert Sheldrake, Jeremy Rifkin, and Prospero. There have been damned few like him over the last few decades, and I don't expect to see/hear many more before I go to meet The Maker I don't believe in.
While yet a lad haunting South Bay record shops in the 60s and 70s, a bipedal Flying Dutchman ceaselessly seeking a port it could never hope to name, I ran across a heady assortment of LP releases by myriad geniuses, but when I discovered Eric Salzman's Nonesuch work, I found myself as decorticated as when I'd stumbled upon Morton Subotnick, Oregon, and Carla Bley earlier. To date, Salzman's small oeuvre is as devastating as the day I first glommed it, and Wold is one of the few who have properly succeeded the composer in his eccentric virtues. Others would include Michael Mantler, Copernicus, Vincent Bergeron, etc., though all their work, as would be expected, is very different.
Certitude and Joy is an autobiographical pensée upon the wonders, imbecilities, mysteries, and cosmic resonances of religion, a modern opera of recitation/sprechestimme and singing revolving around the drama of Wold's religious upbringing and later agnosticisms in the world outside his ecclesiastic family. The music is a blend of Classical Era compositioning beset by harmonious serialities, episodic chapters (Including a brief Waits-y/Bryers-esque interlude), and a ceaseless tension of suspended passages without resolve while nonetheless possessing finality.
I'm not so very sure I can describe Erling's work properly because there are dimensions within dimensions, sacrilegious vulgarities within timeless questions, subversive rendings of form inside fidelities, and all the contrarian delights comfortably anarchic minds seek to revel in. Thus, to whet your appetite, dear reader, here's the hour-long Fellinian video A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, perhaps my favorite Wold creation, though I'm immensely fond of everything he's ever done and particularly entranced by the soundtrack to Jon Jost's film, The Bed You Sleep In—in my consideration, one of the all-time great film soundtracks, fellow travelling companion to the Emerald Forest score by Homrich & Gascoigne. The visual quality of Little Girl could be a bit clearer, but the drama of this latterday masterpiece a la Marat/Sade is unmistakable:
Certitude is not so surreal as that (Little Girl was, after all, taken from Max Ernst's collage-novel of the same name) but none of Wold's work could ever be called Establishmentarian. Many venues have cited the gent as 'postminimal', 'classical', 'post-classical', 'contemporary classical', and so on, none of which I'd argue with while including the categories of 'avant-garde' and 'progressive art music' alongside any other apposite epithets. Certitude, however, is also the most realistic of his canon, insofar as an onrushing stream of conscious POV could be said to be so, and this only adds lushly to the sense of strikingly juxtaposed opposites.
There is, as I said, nothing here which could be pointed to as conclusory, and that, I think, defines the nature of such enterprises, as it should. After all, the 16-page libretto and commentary starts by naming Huxley's Doors of Perception (Gates of Heaven and Hell), a treatise upon LSD-25, and centers in Wold's own existentialism. He informs us that he 'couldn't shake the idea that [his parents'] kind of [Christian] faith, and the Religious Experience that is the seed for it, might be something necessary to survive in this world, an otherwise frightening place of chaos, illness, genocide, war, death, hunger and pain', and then ends with a pensée upon the real-life LaShaun Harris who killed her three children as a matter of Abrahamic religious conviction/hallucination. Is, the sub-current goes, religion ever other than hallucination? And, if so, where is certitude and where joy? This, I grin with pleasure, makes the composition's titular seeming-assertion an irony. Huxley, I have little doubt, would agree.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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