Friday, August 22, 2008

When the Levin Breaks

After (of necessity) wallowing in the post-punk era for a while, where better to turn than some mid-90s obscure post-modern classical music?

I'll admit that even though I have both of the albums Todd Levin made in his short musical career, I know next to zip about the man, so I'll have to waffle around this. But I can tell you that his swansong, DeLuxe, is an audacious and occasionally astonishing album, melding high camp, science-fiction, opera, and whip-smart pop sensibility, and featuring a picture of the composer bouncing around on a space-hopper on its sleeve. Which was possibly a first for Deutsche Grammophon, the Rolls Royce of classical labels, and the imprint on which DeLuxe was released in the mid-90s. I mean, you wouldn't catch, say, Herbert von Karajan doing that, would you?

Levin had previously come to my attention in 1992 as the composer of Ride the Planet, a rather less metropolitan set of compositions that used guitar and keyboard textures (i.e. traditional rock tropes) in the service of classical methods. That album appeared out of the blue on Philip Glass's excellent and much-missed Point Music label*. Just in case the rather ethereal sleeve (see left) didn't tip you off that you were in the presence of art rather than common-or-garden rock and/or roll, the sleeve notes were written by Jenny Holzer, who also helpfully provided all the song titles. These include the snappy "In a Dream You Saw a Way To Survive and You Were Full of Joy" and "It Is Heroic to Try To Stop Time". The music? Oh, I nearly forgot. Imagine Michael Brook fronting Pink Floyd and you wouldn't be far off.

However, some three years later, Levin had gotten a haircut, a smart suit and a job at Sotheby's (according to the sleeve of DeLuxe), as well as a change of label. Luckily for all fans of post-modern whimsy, he found time to knock up some compositions inbetween pricing up gewgaws at the auction house. I've included a couple of his works below. Blur (presumably not named for the Britpop chancers) is quite audacious, and somewhat giddy-making. You're also getting a 6 and a half minute snatch of the incredibly arch, and knowingly annoying, Todd Levin, the autobiographical third track on DeLuxe. The unedited track is 35 minutes long and may a) try your patience and b) screw with my monthly bandwidth allowances, so you're only getting an edit of it. If anyone is really desperate to hear the whole thing, drop me a note. And yes, that is the theme tune to Space 1999 interpolated into Todd Levin at the start of the track. In fact, if you listen carefully, I reckon you might just be able to hear the kitchen sink being thrown in too.

If anyone can shed any more light on the whereabouts of the mysterious Todd Levin, again, drop me a line.

Download Blur (Fragrance Free Mix) by Todd Levin mp3 (deleted Aug 2009)

Download Todd Levin (DG Ultramix) by Todd Levin mp3 (deleted Aug 2009)

A contemporaneous review

The New Composers- Levin, Andriessen, Bang On A Can etc.

* Which reminds me of my one and only Philip Glass anecdote, which I'll now gratuitously shoehorn in. I once spoke to the man himself briefly-- I'm sure it's etched on his memory. Anyhoo, it was a record signing; he'd just brought out The Heroes Symphony and was signing copies. My brother was and is a big Glass fan, so I got Phil to sign the CD "To Big Al", Big Al being my brother's nickname through childhood. "Big Al, huh?" mused Big Phil, "I wonder, did your brother ever meet Little Al, who used to run a record store in Greenwich Village?" "Not unless Little Al ever visited Thornton Cleveleys," I replied, to general bafflement.


Irk The Purists said...

Forgot to say that the players on the above were the London Symphony Orchestra with Mary Nessinger as the Mezzo Soprano, and David Alan Miller conducting.

Well, I wouldn't want to upset anyone, would I?

Anonymous said...

Todd Levin here. Nice post. Thanks.

Irk The Purists said...

Hey there Mr. Levin. Thanks for getting in touch. I was going to give you my e-mail address, ask what you've been up to since DeLuxe, etc. But I've just noticed this recent post at in which you answer these questions very succinctly. I was surprised to find that your curatorial career pre- and post-dates your musical one, but it does explain Jenny Holzer's involvement in your first album.

Anyways, more power to your elbow. Let us know at Irk The Purists Towers if and when you decide to dip your toe back in the muisc biz. And I'll be in touch if I'm ever in the market for a Jeff Koons. Excelsior!

Mari said...

The Harrisburg Symphony performed Blur some years ago. I suspect it was '97 or '98. Don't remember much but I think the program notes said that he preferred to be pretty anonymous. Except that said Mr. Levin showed up wearing a smart pair of square framed glasses, leather pants, and (if my memory serves me right) a yellow plaid blazer. He sat in the audience with everyone else and only stood up briefly afterward.

Buy Women Leather Pants said...

Forgot to say that the players on the above were the London Symphony Orchestra