Randall Woolf | Modern Primitive

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Modern Primitive

by Randall Woolf

Contemporary music and vocals that combine traditional orchestral instruments, digital processing, electric guitar, electronic and acoustic drumsets, and text, creating a richly varied and genre-bending fusion of elements both ancient and futuristic.
Genre: Classical: Contemporary
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Hee Haw
Ransom Wilson, The Pack
7:28 $0.99
2. Stones
Ransom Wilson, The Pack
5:47 $0.99
3. No Luck, No Happiness
Todd Reynolds, Randall Woolf
4:51 $0.99
4. Everything is Green
Ransom Wilson, Kathleen Supové, Rinde Eckert
11:58 $0.99
5. Modern Primitive
Ransom Wilson, The Pack
19:24 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
This is an exciting disc! It contains some of Randall Woolf's most popular works, and it has an impressive list of performers: RANSOM WILSON, TODD REYNOLDS, KATHLEEN SUPOVÉ, RINDE ECKERT and THE PACK

Randall Woolf was born in Detroit. He discovered classical music for himself in college, having spent high school in the usual garage-rock bands. He studied composition privately from 1982 to 1987, taking 3 years of counterpoint and harmony lessons in the Schoenberg tradition with noted microtonalist and jazz visionary Joseph Maneri. he studied orchestration and composition privately with David Del Tredici. In a moment of weakness, he entered the Ph. D. program at Harvard in 1987, and escaped as quickly as possible, in 1990. In 1989, he was a fellow at Tanglewood, studying with Lukas Foss and Oliver Knussen. He resides in Brooklyn with his wife, pianist and ranteuse Kathleen Supové.

His music ranges from the purely traditional classical media such as string quartet and orchestra to the entirely electronic and theatrical, though he is happiest between these extremes. He is frequently performed throughout the united states by groups such as the Seattle Symphony, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Bang On A Can/SPIT Orchestra, Northern Kentucky Symphony, California EAR Unit, American Composers Orchestra, Fulcrum Point, twisted tutu, Music at the Anthology, Basso Bongo, Cleveland Chamber Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, New Millennium Ensemble, Dinosaur Annex, Boston Musica Viva, American Baroque, Dogs of Desire chamber orchestra, Northern Kentucky Symphony, Meridian Arts Ensemble, and the Society for New Music, among others.



to write a review

Andrew Druckenbrod/Pittsburgh Post Gazette

This achingly exquisite work...highlighted another outstanding concert by PNME
Music Review: New music that's theatrical, colorful and singing

Monday, July 18, 2005

By Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At first blush, listeners might have thought Randy Woolf's "Everything Is Green" to be a nod to the lime "team" colors of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. Turns out, the composition may be a standard bearer of its own, for an intriguing niche of the art song genre. This achingly exquisite work for flute, piano and tape highlighted another outstanding concert by PNME Friday at City Theatre.

To consider "Everything Is Green" as song is a bit of a stretch. For one, there was no singer. A pre-recorded narrator, Rinde Eckert, related a short story by David Foster Wallace over the playing of flutist Lindsey Goodman and pianist Daniel Spiegel. But it felt like song and engaged with the same power. The story, set in a trailer park, is elegiac. A world-weary middle-aged man confronts his cheating girlfriend. Rather than yelling at her, he desperately tries to explain to this younger and less complex companion what his deeper, spiritual needs are these days.

Woolf captured the blend of hopelessness and passion the protagonist feels. The piano assumed the role of the singer with a pensive melody while the flute portrayed the man's ranging emotions. A sampled pedal steel guitar lent the strains of country music. The girlfriend is embodied by an intrusively synthetic, Laurie Anderson-like sample. This punctuates her lack of depth. But, in a score roughly in G major, her line slips into E minor at the end, showing that she, too, felt depression. The crux of the work finds the man deciding to ignore her shortcomings and stay, a choice echoed with the flute emphatically playing a high G. Goodman performed the difficult part with agility and emotion.

Tom Strini/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

juggernauts of driving, violently syncopated rhythm...Modern Primitive" is treme
"Modern Primitive" (1991) is a latter-day "Rite of Spring." The outer sections are juggernauts of driving, violently syncopated rhythm sandwiched around a stunned, floating middle section that dotes on a monotonous, childlike tunelet. "Modern Primitive" is tremendously exciting, and not only for its speed. You're not only rolling in this piece, you're careening -- nothing in the fast sections repeats literally, and the rhythms are just nasty. Congratulations to clarinetist Dan Paprocki, violinist Eric Segnitz, percussionist Terry Smirl, flutist Marie Sander, cellist Karl Lavine, pianist Phillip Bush and conductor Kevin Stalheim for concealing the counting and hacking away as if they were natives playing their crazed folk music.

Jason Freeman/Computer-Music-Journal

astonishing musical textures far greater than the sum of their part
Randall Woolf’s Hee Haw integrates looped samples of square-dance callers (triggered by keyboard players) with a chamber ensemble and two singers to create astonishing musical textures far greater than the sum of their parts.

Tim Heidorn

As original and thickly layered as it is uncontrived and accessible.
Randall Woolf's Modern Primitive contains music that is as original and thickly layered as it is uncontrived and accessible.

If you like new experiences and enjoy a variety of musical styles, I recommend that you simply buy it, listen to it a few times and experience it yourself. My words really can't express the impression that this music will have on you. Each individual listener will have a unique experience.

For those of you who want more convincing, read on. Whenever I listen to this CD, I wind up grinning from ear to ear. It makes me smile, even after the music's over, and I don't even know I'm smiling until somebody says, "what are you smiling at?" I roll my eyes and say, "Oh, it's just this Randy Woolf guy again. He blows my mind."

I think Modern Primitive may be the kind of thing that music reviewers and historians don't like to contemplate for the simple reason that it is impossible to categorize. Woolf starts with something he wants to communicate and then he uses whatever sonic motifs he needs to get the job done. In just five pieces we run the gamut from themes as ancient as sex through, modern urbanity, rural cheer and a mournful soul that knows all that modernity and cheer is not as fulfilling as we would wish (unless we're getting enough sex). Instrumentation ranges from the human voice, through chamber orchestra to turn table scratching and sampling. You really can't call the music post modern, minimalist, modern, romantic or baroque because it is all of those. You can't even call it country, classical, or jazz because it's all of those too. What we have here is five distinct pieces of music that communicate on multiple levels, and, when listened to in succession create a singular experience (I'm smiling as I write this). The thought that a single mind composed and arranged, each piece is extraordinary; when you figure that Woolf did the turn table scratching too, well ... you just have to smile.

There are some who could feel annoyed by a composer like Woolf. "why doesn't he write music that challenges me more, or gives me the feeling that I'm in the advent garde, something that represents what's going on in music today, or something that really gives my tube amp a workout?" Why not? For Woolf, the music's the thing, you'll have to find other meanings yourself. I promise you, you will find meanings, many of them unintended by the composer. This music has a life of its own in each individual mind.

I called Modern Primitive "uncontrived" because Woolf appears to have indeliberately picked 5 pieces that he just thinks are the best ones he's got. When I switch on my "advertising & marketing" brain, I can comprehend that the five pieces are inadvertently arranged in reverse order of their likelihood to be reproduced in a concert hall. If you are the kind of person who loves live chamber music from any era but you're not so sure about this "sampling" stuff, I recommend that you listen to the CD in reverse order the first time. That will ease you into it. I will give short descriptions of some of my impressions from each piece in reverse order below.

Modern Primitive is the longest of the five pieces and deservedly the CD's namesake. The style is what I call "modern"; similar to the kind of music that was composed in the early and mid twentieth century. The music is percussive, rhythmic and jazz influenced, but the instrumentation is that of a chamber ensemble (I wrote "chamber orchestra" at first, because it sounds that rich, but the players are fewer in number than an orchestra). I consider this the most likely piece to played in a music hall where you had to pay big bucks to attend. This is the one that gets me smiling after I've listened to the earlier works.

The only thing that might make the second to last piece, Everything Is Green, a little less likely to be played in a concert hall is the narrated subject matter. The narrator tells a story, set in a rural trailer park, of a stymied, middle aged man whose frustrations are accentuated by his young, live in, lover who just might be cheating on him. I'm sure this is very attractive and au sauvage to urban American coasters (I know this piece played in Lincoln Center at least once) but for those of us from the Land of Lincoln who have spent plenty of time in trailers, the setting of the story is less important than the thoughts of a man who can give this girl a home and love but can't seem to keep her loyalty. The interplay is described with spare language and a non standard syntax that demonstrates how nuanced "simple" can be. I suppose that this is the problem with the piece, if there is a problem to be found. The spoken words are so powerfully communicating the story, that the music - which I consider minimalist, and , yes, simple - fades to the background. This is as intended, the instrumentation is as spare as the narrator's word; a piano, a flute and a soprano voice. I think one should listen to Everything Is Green at least three times in a row; first to understand the story, second to absorb the interesting linguistic quality of the writing and a third time to let the speaking voice become a musical instrument itself which would be just as pleasing in a foreign language that you don't understand. To me, this music would be the perfect soundtrack accompaniment to a film of a pair of tigers mating while a second, younger male prowls unseen in the background - unseen, yes, but you can almost smell him.

That's what I mean by multi layered.

No Luck, No Happiness gets us into some instrumentation that you might be more likely to hear in a dance club than a concert hall. The liner notes list Woolf as the player of the turntables. He is accompanying the violin work of Todd Reynolds. This is an aggressive and energetic piece. The violin work reminds me of country fiddle playing and if I'm alone I am liable to stand up a dance a little jig. The juxtaposition of this instrumentation makes one wonder if Carlie Daniels isn't be doing something similar today. When I call Woolf's music "accessible" I refer to No Luck, No Happiness as the prime example.

Stones has a mournful quality accentuated by the expressive soprano vocals of Elizabeth Farnam. This is what we would expect from a contemporary opera where the singing character has just been hurt in some way. This is the piece that does not make me smile while I'm listening, it is also the exception to my earlier assertion that the five pieces are arranged in opposite order of their likelihood to be played in a concert hall. The instrumentation is the same chamber ensemble (known as The Pack) that play's Modern Primitive. This is the most studiously, dissonant of the five pieces and an interesting break between the two most energetic pieces.

In some ways, Hee Haw is as much a trip back to the mid 20th century as Modern Primitive is, but it is really a pastiche of sounds that reminds us of a county fair at a time when rural culture was not yet a tradition to be protected by a few enthusiasts, but a brazen exception to urban and national taste. Speaking as a country boy, born in 1959, I have never actually known that world, as a youngger man, my badge of brazen exception was Punk Rock, just like suburbanites. Imagine the boisterous background voices of hawkers you might hear and the thoughts you might think if you were at a county fair on the plains, square dancing at a time when everybody square danced and anticipating a Bob Wills concert to come in the evening. On the round band stand just outside the dance hall, a lady is singing a lovely tune that you can't dance to. You only here her voice drifting over you when the square dance band takes a break. This music begs to be choreographed, and in addition to the county fair illusions reminds me a bit of the set dance piece in the classic Hollywood musical, An American In Paris.

My words pale in the face of the music, but if they help induce you to listen I'll be happy for you.

By way of full disclosure, I have never met Randy Woolf face to face, but we have corresponded. He asked me, "Tim, what's your favorite piece on Modern Primitive?" I answered, "It's not a single piece Randy, it's all of them together that do the trick for me". Interestingly, when I mentioned to him that I thought the violin work on No Luck, No Happiness seemed like country fiddle, he wrote back, "Wow, I never really thought about it like that. It was inspired by a song called 'Barra Barra' , by Rachid Tahathe which is part of the soundtrack from the movie Black Hawk Down. I'm scratching Barra Barra on the turntable" I read that, shook my head, smiled again, and I wrote back, "I guess most of those U.S. Army Rangers fighting in Mogadishu were country boys".

Unintended truths manifest themselves in the open spirited music of Randall Woolf. My message to Randy? "Don't Slow Down".

Steve Smith Time Out/NY

the Randall Woolf record we’ve all been waiting for.
Contemporary composers have long made use of electric guitars, keyboards, and other pop-music implements. But Detroit-born New Yorker Randall Woolf is one of the few to adapt tactics such as sampling and hip-hop turntablism as viable elements in a post-modern compositional vocabulary. Hee Haw, the work that opens Woolf’s new CD, provides the perfect introduction: A prerecorded square-dance caller sets a chamber orchestra aswirl, with only a brief, heartsick-ballad interlude allowing the players to catch their breath.
In Stones, Woolf stitches together the coarse fiber of Robert Johnson’s Delta blues and the dark shimmer of strings, winds,and keyboard. No Luck, No Happiness pits Todd Reynold’s muscular violin riffs against the composer’s inventive beats and scratching, while in Everything Is Green, Rinde Eckert’s deadpan narration of a David Foster Wallace short story is offset by a poignant ”enactment” by flutist Ransom Wilson and pianist Kathleen Supové. The concluding title work is a 19-minute arc of bristling, Stravinskian rhythms, split by a luminous intermezzo....For fans of provocative contemporary music, Modern Primitive is the Randall Woolf record we’ve all been waiting for.

Paul Griffiths

Randall Woolf escapes the primitive label by virtue of his virtuosity
Woolf: Modern Primitive (Image IRC 0502)

Randall Woolf escapes the primitive label by virtue of his virtuosity and the modern for his fond, yet amused, cherishing of the U.S. vernacular. The title track, delivering the longest of the five works here, is an alarmed Brandenburg with its roots in country music and jazz. Different instrumental groupings keep bubbling to the surface, take over for a time, but soon have their lead places usurped (though they might take a while to notice). Though the piece plays continuously, its span of close on twenty minutes has an ABA pattern of hectic music enclosing slower rotating dreams. ‘The Pack’ turns out to be a crack band of New York musicians—Tara O’Connor on flute, Allen Blustine on clarinet, Timothy Fain on violin, Kathleen Supové on piano, et al.—conducted by Ransom Wilson, and well able to deal with the jerks of form and stance the music demands. Shorter, and more of a fun item, is Hee Haw, in which the ensemble seems to be responding to instructions from a square-dance caller. There is something of the same atmosphere in No Luck, No Happiness for violin (Todd Reynolds) with a crazed percussion accompaniment from the composer on turntables, while Everything is Green weaves a gentle and touching musical coat around a love story by David Foster Wallace, featuring the naturally persuasive voices of Wilson on flute and Rinde Eckert narrating. [30.iv.06]