Take a good look at the cover art of Dan Joseph’s Mutable Music release “Archaea.” Do you see where this is going? Apparently, right off the edge of the case, which is a subtle nod in the right direction– full-on minimalism, and in three flavors, no less.


Joseph, a hammer dulcimer virtuoso and constant on the New York scene; presents three ensemble works for combinations of violin, cello, harpsichord, clarinet, percussion, and hammer dulcimer. Of course, the old red-flag word “minimalism” gets to raise its Janic spectre again– just another reason to listen, in my opinion. On one hand, the ensemble does let phrases have their head– and Joseph is a machine on his dulcimer– so the element of repetition is definately present. However, a listener would be a fool to ask for more detail; the apparent simplicity of phrasing conceals just how much is actually happening.

This is especially true in the interaction between hammer dulcimer and harpsichord, where I often find myself listening to a mixture of them both, without fully grasping either. In my favorite passages, such as towards the end of the “Lotus Quintet,” multiple instruments mirror each other’s notes, creating hybrid “super-notes”. Nevertheless, “Archaea” is easy on the ears, with a crisp, unencumbered sound perfect for the “repeat one disc” setting on your stereo.

For Joseph, “Archaea” knocks one out of the park, meeting Mutable Music’s worthy goal of releasing music that will “engage the mind and the heart,” as well as providing an example of everything that can go deliciously right with minimalist work.

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