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Busting Bach with Don Dorsey

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

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Busting Bach with Don Dorsey 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1988, The Syracuse Newspapers

Don Dorsey is a crazy guy, and you should stay as far away from him as you can. Contact with this California composer, either in person or through the medium of his recordings, could leave you with a terminal case of musical dissatisfaction.

What he did to Johann Sebastian in his best-selling CD, "Bachbusters," in 1986 he is trying to do again with "Beethoven or Bust," in which he turns his electronic synthesizers loose on hapless Ludwig Van. The new Telarc all-digital recording (CD-80153) is almost certain to make fuddy-duddies angry, synthesizer fans happy, and old-guard Beethovians cry.

It couldn't happen to a nicer composer. While Bach has suffered through his share of indignations—from Leopold Stokowski's "improvements" of the 1930s to Wendy Carlos's electronic semi-cacaphony of a decade ago—Beethoven has been hiding behind the curtain, hoping none of the pot-shotters would aim in his direction.

A few have tried, but none successfully until now. Or perhaps, maybe, just possibly not even now, because I'm not fully convinced that Don Dorsey has hit his target squarely.

What Dorsey is actually trying to strike down, of course, are our preconceptions of what classical music is all about. If we conceive of "serious" classical music as something that is performed in accordance with the composer's original intentions, then Dorsey and hundreds of others are out there in a musical limb, doing great damage to our classical ideals.

I don't happen to agree with that kind of prissy approach to music-making, but if you do, you also might want to hand Dorsey a chain saw so he can cut off that limb and bring himself down with a big crash.

The chain saw would be appropriate, as would the crash, since Dorsey serves a smorgasbord of strange sounds in his new CD, including buzzing noises, the bashing of an automobile accident and the thumping of the world's cruelest woofer crusher.

If you have weak knees or a weak stereo system, you may want to pass this album by. But if you believe "serious" music starts somewhere left of the Stones and extends to the right of Bruckner, you'll want to hear this CD.

Interestingly, after I played "Beethoven or Bust" a half-dozen times, I discovered that what had impressed me at first turned out to be least impressive later on—and what at first had seemed to be musical fooling around took on an odd kind of dignity.

Telarc's production quality is, as usual, very high. Best of all for audio freaks is the CD's low-bass response, which ranks right up there with Saturn V launches and nuclear detonations as the loudest bass in the known universe. With eight large woofers pumping out enough air to raise a dust storm in my living room, I was still unable to play Dorsey's synthetic bass to its full potential.

Telarc CDs are sold in most record and CD shops. Prices run from $15 to $18.

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