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6 Degrees Entertainment

'George Crumb: Voice Of The Whale'
(George Crumb, et al / DVD / NR / 2016 / MVD Visual)

Overview: In 1976, music filmmaker Robert Mugge created his first music-related film. Titled 'GEORGE CRUMB: VOICE OF THE WHALE', it was this dazzling, 54-minute portrait of Pulitzer Prize-winning and Grammy-winning composer George Crumb.

DVD Verdict: For those not in the know, George Crumb is an American composer of avant-garde music. He is noted as an explorer of unusual timbres, alternative forms of notation, and extended instrumental and vocal techniques. Examples include seagull effect for the cello (ie: Vox Balaenae), metallic vibrato for the piano (ie: Five Pieces for Piano), and using a mallet to play the strings of a contrabass (ie: Madrigals, Book I), among numerous others.

He is not an electronic music composer; however, many works call for amplification of instruments, such as Black Angels (string quartet) or Ancient Voices of Children (mixed ensemble). Crumb defines music as "a system of proportions in the service of spiritual impulse."

The film we have today, 'George Crumb: Voice Of The Whale' was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and makes innovative use of color and a dialectical structure to reveal Crumb's life (green-tinted-footage), his work (blue-tinted footage, and connections between the two (full-color footage).

Included in the film are a performance of Crumb's 1971 composition, Vox Balaenae for Three Masked Players; samples of the rural, West Virginia gospel music that has influenced him; demonstrations by Crumb of exotic instruments and unusual effects that figure in his compositions; and scenes from his home and university teaching environments.

At his home, Crumb discusses his compositional techniques with fellow composer Richard Wernick, and his musician wife Elizabeth discusses their life together; at the university, Wernick's Penn Contemporary players (Carole Morgan, Lambert Orkis, and Barbara Haffner) perform Vox Balaenae. Words frequently used to describe George Crumb's work are poetic, atmospheric, mysterious, evocative.

He himself has said, I feel intuitively that music must have been the first cell from which language, science, and religion originated. 'George Crumb: Voice Of The Whale' was first broadcast over PBS on June 6th, 1978 and has now been transferred to HD from the original 16mm film and lovingly restored. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.