Canadian composer-producer MC Maguire’s “Trash of Civilizations” isn’t quite as disposable as its title makes out. The recording is available by download or as a CD from Innova, the label of the American Composers Forum.
“The Spawn of Abe,” the first of two tracks, is a 28-minute double concerto for clarinet (Max Christie on B-flat clarinet) and oboe (Mark Rogers), backed by a brilliant collage that evokes the sonic clashes of Charles Ives, updated to the contemporary Middle East. It’s a helter-skelter mix that explores, as Maguire writes in liner notes, the three major monotheistic religions with “incantations of mullahs, rabbis and priests, with the singing of cantors, muezzins and Gregorian Chant, Al-Quaeda ditties, a Bin Laden cameo, American-Jewish comedians, klezmer bands, Arab pop music, bars in Tel Aviv, the streets of Cairo, air raid sirens, jets, helicopters … ”
Inevitably, “The Spawn of Abe” spirals down the funnel of history toward another Holocaust, or maybe an ecumenical apocalypse. Few sounds are as instantly chilling as droning, WWII-era sirens. But after brief consideration, the music instead catapults into cosmic outer space — a little cheesy, perhaps, but satisfying in the context.
The other track, coming in at 40 minutes, is “Narcissus auf Bali,” on the Narcissus and Echo myth. It’s another double concerto of sorts, this time for vibraphone (Trevor Tureski) and marimba (Ryan Scott), backed by an “orchestra” of computer-processed sounds based on gamelan from the Indonesian island of Bali. It’s fun, manic, funny. The climax edges toward generic Hollywood, at which point this clever piece goes Roman Empire Epic on us, and MC Maguire reveals his other career, writing for television and advertising.
These clichéd conclusions show that the composer has a problem with what literary critic Frank Kermode, back in the 1960s, called “the sense of an ending.” But for much of this album, the music is enthralling. It brims with ideas and abundant pleasures. Pop and “world” music are as powerful an influence as 20th-century classical. Indeed, the creator might not deign to call the stuff “classical” at all.