The Flay of War Recorded
March 15, 2013
David T. Little is an up-and-coming New York area composer who has received considerable press lately for his “punk-classical” dramatic works. The metadata from the CD under review labels the genre of his latest release as “rock.” What have you! Look, he’s classically trained, by the likes of the well-known composers Michael Daugherty, William Bolcolm, Steven Mackey, Osvaldo Golijov, and others, so he’s no slouch. In fact he’s about to receive his Ph.D. degree from Princeton.
Should you run online to buy Soldier Songs, you’ll find that his music theater piece deals with the psychological impacts of modern warfare and the society that breeds it. Listening to it will give you a good dose of his postminimalist, rock-infused style. It will curl your ears and your stomach with the high-steroid sounds of battle mania (as in the piece Still Life With Tank and iPod), the shock of grisly mutilations (Old Friends With Large Weapons), and the lasting agony of obliterated-sons memories (Two Marines), not to mention the ongoing pain of squinting to read the texts in miniscule font.
Listen to the excerpt Hollywood Ending to get an idea of the best of this music: visceral, agonized, concise, permeated with subtle references to the Dies Irae plainchant for the dead. Little’s work is composed from the heart, inspired as it is by interviews he conducted with veterans suffering from PTSD, excerpts of which conversations are woven into some of the tracks.
Unfortunately, not all the tracks are of the same quality, particularly the overdrawn, 13-minute War After War. Between squints on the booklet pages, there are photos of what must have been a powerful theatrical milieu for Little’s setting. Shorn of that, the music at times leaves something to be desired, particularly the quality of baritone David Adam Moore’s voice, which, while highly dramatic, is not particularly beautiful to listen to from disembodied audio speakers. But he looks like he would have been physically awesome in performance.
This work is best seen rather than heard. This work is best seen rather than heard. If it gets to the Bay Area, which I hope it does, this recording will make a fine, if grisly, souvenir.
Jeff Dunn is a freelance critic with a B.A. in music and a Ph.D. in geologic education. A composer of piano and vocal music, he is a member of the National Association of Composers, USA, a former president of Composers, Inc., and has served on the Board of New Music Bay Area.