Off the beaten track: “In Appetizing Portions” by Fritz Myers and Clare Drobot is satisfied with a solid psychological prize
Photo credit: Anna Barbera
In this column we have explored the sacred and the profane, from a cycle of Psalms songs composed by Dvořák and performed by Elyse Anne Kakacek to a recording of lyrics reimagining the character of Salome. What is missing ? A good meal.
In this episode of Off the Beaten Track, the off-menu special is “In Appetizing Portions,” a recently released five-part song cycle composed by Fritz Myers with lyrics by Clare Drobot. The recording features Myers on electric guitar, Angie Tanning on violin, and soprano Samantha Britt singing the food-obsessed central character. Together, these artists use their gifts to create a tasty plate of free sounds, detached from the tradition of piano and voice.
This long-running cycle premiered in 2012 at The Tank in New York City, after which the artists worked on the album in the measure of time and geography. Nine years later, we are presented with an example of how artistic song continues to develop in the 21st century and, with it, chamber music. “In Appetizing Portions” offers satisfying cuisine for lovers of art songs while simultaneously presenting an appetizer for the curious, for whom 19th century works might fall flat like a dry soufflé.
“The musical challenge of this piece, both in its creation and its performance, is the instrumentation,” Myers said in the album’s press release. “The three voices form a sort of triangle; each side is essential for supporting the others when the part tumbles. Each movement introduces a musical element that does not appear in the others in an attempt to highlight the frustration, ecstasy, monotony, discomfort and vulnerability experienced by the character; each reaching a climax or anti-climax reflecting those emotions. The IAP is above all chamber music. It could be performed at a dinner party to provoke or delight or in a variety of other settings by a trio of musicians leaning on each other to weave their threads into something bigger.
Drobot added, “The IAP text was intended as an exploration of character through food. I was really drawn to the idea of food being a luxury and a way to explore status. The character tries to prove his worth by creating this elaborate dinner and in the midst of stress and anxiety, he loses the essence of cooking. This food is a way of bringing people together.
I am aligned with the lyricist; I see everything she talks about and more. In my encounter with the character, I don’t think that she lost only the essence of cooking but also her sense of self. I believe the character’s identity vanished piece by piece long before we met her scurrying around Manhattan’s Upper East Side in search of ingredients for a high-stakes dinner party, a reunion designed to impress. his mother-in-law. Food and its use by the character for pleasure or to impress cross the line between the enjoyment of food and the pathological obsession.
PART I: The search for the perfect ingredients
The first part of the cycle, “Fred,” takes its name from the ethical butcher the character first visits on his frantic race for the perfect ingredients. The play’s perpetual motion and relentless motivation exemplify the anxiety present within the character as she strives for the right Stilton, the best veal, and the ever-hard-to-find heirloom tomatoes, which according to her she will amaze her in-laws. Samantha Britt’s voice carries with it the sense of obsession I mentioned earlier, and the vocal line is mostly syllabic, adding to the turbulent sense of worry.
Myers supports Britt on guitar, founding the character’s hectic shopping spree with a calming foundation. Still, Tanning’s dissonant strikes on the violin interrupt her like intrusive thoughts that wonder if she is good enough for her husband’s mother. As we’ll soon find out, food played a crucial role in winning her husband’s heart, so it makes sense for the character to think she can achieve similar success through the same means.
“Fred” ends with a long suspension, signaling to me that the teenager isn’t just about dinner. I imagine the character embarking on similar missions in an endless quest for the ingredients that make up the most elusive dish, a validation outside the realm of food.
PART II: An erotic encounter with a donut
The link between sex and food is strong. Innocent fruit and veg emojis have taken on lustful connotations. With that in mind, should it surprise us when the second part of the cycle, “A Calorie Devotion,” features an eroticized cream-filled donut?
Tanning’s violin line is more languid, of course, and heavily applied reverb carries us away from the rush to town and into character consciousness as she recalls her first meeting with her future husband, who at the he era witnessed the meeting of his future bride with fried Pâte. The character knows the “classically handsome” man is sitting behind her, but she loves the donut so much that she’s supposed to pay it little attention – right? Maybe that’s quite a spectacle, and if so, the episode illustrates it using food as a means to an end.
In case you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at the text. “I bit into it,” she repeats three times. “All that cream, so smooth.” That too, she repeats. She tells us that a little moan rises from her throat until the pleasure explodes. The words “Oh my God! Are sung over the stick and held, leaving little doubt about the magic of the donut. In the last glow, as the characters’ gazes meet, the man asks, “Have you always loved donuts?”
Underneath the eroticism of the text, Myers uses his guitar like a drone that creates a lush soundscape while Tanning sets a constant pulse that accelerates as the climax draws closer with each bite.
PART III: A dumpling is a dumpling except when it is not …
With “Dumplings” we may be back in the present. I couldn’t tell because there is no mention of the things the character bought in “Fred” to make the dumplings – maybe she had already acquired them. Who knows? The key aspect is that she has a conversation with herself in which she explains the many ways in which humble food is prepared. She talks about the ordinary ingredients that make up the package, the various fillings, and that they can be steamed or fried; it’s a weird cooking show in that regard. I imagine the character, making her dumplings, happy in the world full of food she makes while repeating over and over that “a dumpling is a dumpling except …” The mood? She loses control of reality.
The music is chaotic, and that quality remains loosely in check with a new musical element performed by Tanning. It is a single repeated note played in pizzicato. The monotonous teardrop-shaped clips color the room with a touch of madness. When Tanning isn’t sending dot-dots resembling Morse code, she inclines dissonant broken chords that strike like lightning before fading into short-lived legato passages. Myers maintains a constant flow below the vocal line, anchoring both Britt and the listener.
PART IV: Ethical consumption
“Moral Obligation” is the most lyrical piece, with more legato vocal lines than in any of the previous tracks. Guitar and violin play in unison, and Britt uses dynamics and vocal nuances to express a sense of guilt, grief, and self-reflection about what she consumes. No matter how organic, free-range, or ethical her choice of animal protein is, she tries to assuage her conscience by remembering, for example, that “ducks are not human” to justify strength. twice a day. food. The production of fatty liver is not that bad; she thinks the mashed cereal “just slips down their throats.”
Although she considers the ethics of her gastronomic lifestyle, she doesn’t want to think too much. It could spoil the fun, much like getting her hands dirty while hunting, fishing, and carving up what she cooks and puts in front of her and the others at the table. These things she describes as “gross” before firmly asserting that she prefers her meals “in appetizing portions”, sanitized from ugliness.
I consider “Moral Obligation” to be the character’s most lucid reflection in the song cycle. It’s a topic many of us have thought about and struggled with, which makes it a lot more relevant than the character’s donut fantasy, although my brushstroke might be too broad in that regard. .
PART V: A desire to escape
The most lush piece of the five is also the last song of the cycle. “Float” features Tanning’s violin doubled up to create a richer, fuller sound. The text reveals a certain awareness of the protagonist’s special relationship with edibles. Her inner monologue expresses a desire for escape, but she wants her freedom to go through food like everything in her world. She wants to bathe in chocolate, swim in a gazpacho and float to a place of peace. If she could fly over the kitchen and part with the anxious mania that drives her to find her stepmother’s validation via a sumptuous dinner, then everything will be in its place.
But then things get messy when she talks about smearing her face with aloe and having all the moisture sucked out of her skin and feeling her face tighten. This is what she wants to do to keep her mind from spinning. The dumpling theme returns, and she wishes to be locked up and “fold into a layer of potato gratin or dig inside the pork roulade.”
Beyond validation, there is a desire for escape and renewal. The chocolate bath that the character envisions is a kind of baptism; one that eases her rebirth as the siding dries and cracks, and she emerges again, perhaps with a shopping list in hand.