[6 March 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
“Virtuosity in this case is defined by the ability to endure.”
This is what composer Drew Baker writes in the liner notes for Stress Position. His works for acoustic piano, performed here by pianist Marilyn Nonken and aided by Baker himself and percussionists Sean Connors and Peter Martin, don’t quite reach Charlemagne Palestine-levels of madness. But five works in 51 minutes does propose a bit of a test for both performer and listener. “Gaeta” is probably the most physically strenuous for Nonken, summoning a drone from the piano through rapid bass-clef pounding. The title track employs the same method but comes across much angrier. “Gray” and “National Anthem” are less active and far more naked in presentation, slipping in and out of the mix and occasionally going into 12-tone territory. The longest track, “Asa Nisi Masa”, is the most challenging; ugly chord chunks sound off every 20 seconds or so, coming closer together over time before laying the piece bare in a 16-minute meditation quiet enough to silence the loudness wars.