Recordings/ReviewsWritten on October 14th, 2018 by Zack Browning
Click on pictures to purchase CD
Premiere recordings of Soul Doctrine, Silent Crackdown, Unafraid, and Rock Furious plus Flute Soldier. Performed by the Sonata Islands Quartet.
- Soul Doctrine for flute, electric guitar, and piano (9'25")
- Silent Crackdown for alto saxophone and piano (10'00")
- Flute Soldier for flute and piano (8'29")
- Unafraid for flute, alto saxophone, and piano (12'51")
- Rock Furious for flute and electric guitar (10'27")
- “World wise contemporary classical music with a rock attitude. Browning is the kitchen sink kind of composer that can mix Oriental modes with crime jazz in the same measure and make your head spin without giving you vertigo. Wild and wooly but still sitting down music, this almost feels like a grand 50s soundtrack by Bernstein if he was really given the chance to go off the hook for a French new wave art film. A massive ear opener, strap yourself in for a sonic good time that you almost won’t believe is happening ---all at once.”
-- Midwest Record, October 12, 2018.
- Though Browning is an Associate Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois, Soul Doctrine is no by-the-numbers academic exercise in Western classical form. Instead, he draws on a number of unusual strategies, Chinese magic squares, feng shui, and astrology among them, as foundations upon which to build, resulting in pieces that are, not surprisingly, as unconventional (detailed info pertaining to the compositions' origins are included on the physical package's inner sleeve). It also doesn't come as a huge surprise that the listener is oblivious to such esoterica as the music plays, the attention instead engaged by music that's visceral, vibrant, and rapidly scene-shifting... Major credit must be extended to Sonata Islands, which brings Browning's music to life vividly and consistently amplifies its life-affirming character.
-- Textura, January 2019.
- “What is most striking, in this new CD of the American composer born in 1953 Zack Browning - the third potrait album released by Innova - is his (already well established) ability to balance formal rigor and immediacy of listening. The principles of organization that inform the five pieces recorded here, written for different combinations of flute, saxophone, piano and electric guitar, include personal interpretations and applications of feng shui, ancient Taoist geomantic art of China, as well as the magic square of Durer. In this way the author manages to link heterogeneous sources, ranging from a Mass of Palestrina to a song by Jethro Tull, from Jewish to Reggae music. The Sonata Islands Quartet, led by the flutist and composer Emilio Galante - flanked by the saxophonist Pepito Ross, the pianist Andrea Dindo and the guitarist Walter Zanetti. They are all musicians at ease with any kind of music - it is an ideal team for this music that runs dry, even sometimes angular, geometric paths, under which pulsates the energy of syncopated rhythms and a sound that is both clean and vibrant, and that requires equal accuracy and sense of groove, coldness and transport.”
-- Filippo Focosi, Kathodik, January 24, 2019.
Premiere recordings of Hakka Fusion, Secret Pulse, String Quartet, Flying Tones, and Moon Thrust. Performed by the Cadillac Moon Ensemble, Ensemble Unity, JACK Quartet, and the University of Central Florida Percussion Ensemble.
- Hakka Fusion for flute, viola, and piano (10'46")
- Secret Pulse for flute, violin, cello, and computer sounds (8'41")
- String Quartet for two violins, viola, and cello (15'21")
- Flying Tones for percussion ensemble (10'23")
- Moon Thrust for flute, violin, cello, and percussion (16'42")
- “Zack Browning's compositions are infectious.”
-- American Record Guide, August 2012.
- “Browning draws liberally from rock, funk, jazz, which returns all the rhythmic energy and melodic freshness… a buzzing atmosphere, which encourages others to listen to this interesting composer.”
-- Kathodik, May 2012.
- “This album is perfectly varied, perfectly represented by top notch ensembles, and perfectly presented. When you hold it, it just feels right as a collection of music. The title track is like an energetic, genre-crossing ensemble mixed with a 9bit video game and a trailer for a Transformers movie. It's wonderful.”
-- Perspectives on Sound, April 2012.
- “It is a music of our time…If Morton Feldman's later music felt like a leisurely scan of the patterns of a Persian rug, Zack Browning's music is like a rapid traversal of landscape changes in a low-flying jet. The results make for fascinating listening.”
-- Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, March 2012.
- “Who knew squares could be so magical in compositions? Zack Browning certainly did, and in this CD he uses the 5X5 Magic Square of Mars, the 9X9 Magic Square of the Moon, and the ancient Chinese 3X3 Lo Shu Square to show how freely compositions can roam within structure. The Cadillac Moon Ensemble performs 1 and 5 (5 has elements of Van Morrison’s Moon Dance mixed in); Ensemble Unity masters 1; Jack Quartet ably executes 3; and the University of Central Florida Percussion Ensemble delights on 4 (mallets, yes!). Each group nimbly brings to life the jaunty, perky energy characteristic of this composer of “speed-demon music.” Let the classical/experimental goodness get your pulse jumping!”
-- KFJC 89.7FM Reviews, March 5, 2012.
- “Secret Pulse, starts with taped sounds of blurry, stroboscopic electronica, augmented by live flute, cello and violin. It's way-cool in attitude, racing at top velocity, pausing only occasionally for a lyrical cello melody or pointillistic violin fragment. There's anxiety in its fast-faster-faster sensory overload, which stirred feelings of helplessness. It felt like a bleak commentary on our depersonalized, electro-computer society, where an individual's ideas are swept aside by the information-age tsunami. And it was kinda fun.” Performance by NeoPhonia Ensemble.
-- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about performance of Secret Pulse, February 15, 2005.
- “Zack Browning’s 2008 String Quartet provided just what was needed to end the program, a propulsive, giddy, rocking piece, a rush of cyclic riffs and fractured meters.”
-- The New York Times about performance of String Quartet, March, 2010.
Premiere recordings of Execution 88, Blockhouse, Venus Notorious, Flute Soldier, and Thunder Roll, plus Profit Beater. Performed by the McCormick Percussion Ensemble, MFL Quartet, Ensemble Unity, University of Illinois Piano Trio, and Jee-Ean Kim, piano.
- Profit Beater for flute and percussion ensemble (11'53")
- Execution 88 for solo piano (11'44")
- Blockhouse for violin, cello, and piano (11'57")
- Venus Notorious for two pianos, xylophone, and drum set (14'56")
- Flute Soldier for flute and piano (8'24")
- Thunder Roll for piano and percussion ensemble (10'33")
- “Browning clearly has a knack for creating fascinating, dynamic, and beautiful material, so that when it is run through the processes of the magic squares, the results really are wonderfully delightful and intriguing. The music is for the most part hyperkinetic, quirkily hurtling forward, with startling, unpredictable juxtapositions whose oddness is almost guaranteed to make the listener smile.”
-- AllMusic, December 2010.
- “This music is complex though not overdone, with a je-ne-sais-quoi that makes it very accessible. Highly recommended…”
-- All Music Guide, August 2031.
- “…charming, ebullient, infectiously…. Browning's rhythmic palette is so bouncy and exuberant - some of the music sounds like dance tracks for androids with varying numbers of feet - it has a seductive sort of grace.”
-- San Francisco Chronicle, August 2010.
- “This technique [magic squares] tends to produce compositions that are multi-sectional, full of variety, and pique the intellect and the ear. Or to put it another way, rather like a meal with many different courses, the pieces move from one textual or rhythmic “flavor” to another. This makes them highly accessible, and, if you are a person who thinks you do not like “modern music,” this CD might well change your mind.”
-- Sonorities, Winter 2012.
- “The infectious energy, clearly inspired by pop and rock that flows from all of his compositions, in which a leading role is played by the percussion, there is no risk to disperse, as is deftly channeled by the composer in inaccessible paths, branched, but that ultimately lead us to the light.”
-- Kathodik, December 2010.
- “Wow, a very percussive contemporary music record - with or without percussion! Browning, an American composer, delivers here five recent works (2006/2007) plus one dating back to 1975. His music is complex, rhythm-centric, and driving. It’s easy to forget that it is mostly based on magic squares. I must mention “Profit Beater” (12 minutes) for flute and percussion, featuring the McCormick Percussion Ensemble (who recently released a CD on one of Parma’s sub-labels), and “Venus Notorious” (15 minutes) for two pianos, xylophone, and drum kit. This music is complex though not overdone, with a je-ne-sais-quoi that makes it very accessible. Highly recommended, especially to RIO fans.”
-- All Music Guide, August 21, 2010.
Premiere recordings of the compositions for ensembles with computer sounds, Trimilital Adversary, Cold Cuts, Sole Injection, Black Notes, Banjaxed, Network Slammer, Impact Addiction, Gridrock, plus Breakpoint Screamer. Performed by Ensemble Screamer, MFL Quartet, Crash Ensemble, University of Illinois Trombone Ensemble, and soloists Brona Cahill, Camilla Hoitenga, and Taimur Sullivan.
- Breakpoint Screamer for five trumpets and computer-generated sounds (7'01")
- Trilimital Adversary, Cold Cuts for trumpet, trombone, double bass, drum set and computer-generated sounds (9'35")
- Sole Injection for violin and computer-generated sounds (10'00")
- Black Notes for alto saxophone and computer-generated sounds (5'16")
- Banjaxed for voice, violin, piano, drum set and computer-generated sounds (13'34")
- When not composing music Zack Browning teaches at the University of Illinois. Several of the cuts on Banjaxed use the magic square as a structural device. The magic square is a grid of numbers that all add up to the same sum, whether one adds the rows, the columns, or the diagonal lines. You can’t hear this, of course, but I suppose it helped Browning organize his musical thoughts. All of the tracks are electro-acoustic. The acoustic instruments include trumpet, violin, alto saxophone, flute, and mixed ensemble. Browning combines pop and classical ideas. I complained in the last issue that this rarely works, but Browning seems to have pulled it off. Each piece has the thematic consistency of a pop tune. They are all instantly identifiable, with the same production polish and narrow dynamic range as most pop records. Browning blends all of this with the creative and structural sophistication of classical music. One of the best pieces is the first one, Breakpoint Screamer. It is an apt title for this edgy, but cool work. The musicians breathe fire like a dragon, singeing but never burning. I also enjoyed the title track, which might be the aural equivalent of the pinball machine. Imagine sassy, brilliant bumpers with each slam of the ball sending a glitter of lights and mechanical twitters through your chest. Electro-acoustic aficionados should definitely check this out.
-- Payton MacDonald, "The Newest Music." American Record Guide, November/December 2002.
- “Impact Addiction and Sole Injection, two works for live performers and tape, both highly energized pieces which represent the musicians, guided by click tracks, almost as pseudo-electronic puppets, and bringing together the procedures of high musical art with the taste of popular culture.”
-- The Irish Times about performance of Impact Addiction and Sole Injection, March 7, 1998.
- “Zack Browning's absorbingly entertaining Network Slammer for flute and tape. Zack's piece is direct and clear on first acquaintance, but one to hear again and again for the sheer pleasure of familiarity; based on The Magic Square of Venus (Agrippa), but nothing like Maxwell Davies - an electroacoustic work to wake up and delight the audience for any type of concert.”
-- Gaudeamus Week – Musical Pointers about performance of Network Slammer, September 2004.
- “Zack Browning's Network Slammer, which uses the numerical magic square as a compositional model, showed that process-oriented music, a frequently dour obsession of the 1970s, can be great fun. The live flutist spun intricate melodic lines against a banging computer part that alternated between a cockeyed robotic dance and more rhythmically supple and energetic material. The four-channel electronic sounds brought to mind the beloved Hammond B3, and they filled the space richly.”
-- San Antonio Express News about performance of Network Slammer, September 17, 2006.
Debut album of NakedEye Ensemble contains the premiere recording of Decade of the Dragon (commissioned and premiered by NakedEye Ensemble). Album won two Gold Medals from Global Music Awards for best debut album and best ensemble recording.
- Decade of the Dragon for clarinet, electric guitar, piano, and drum set (9'10")
- Utilizing a variety of styles drawn from classical, jazz and rock, Decade of the Dragon is immediately alluring, his compositional reflections on the anniversaries that marked the beginning and the end of the Vietnam war. Here he reenacts the conflict and its disastrous aftermath though explosive Zappa styled guitar flourishes and filtered variations from traditional Vietnamese music.
-- Edwin Pouncey, "Avant Rock." The Wire, October 2018.
- “Zack Browning Decade of The Dragon highly differs from the first one. It’s formed by the synthesis between jazz and rock music styles. The music is based on bright and loud guitar riffs, quadratic form, has enough space for free improvisation and musical experiments. Composer masterfully blends all these elements together in one place. The most effective elements of this composition are the melodies – it’s filled with dynamic turns, vivid and light changes, expressive and virtuosic solos, passages, hard core beats and other similar rock music elements. This composition also has some relations with experimental music, academic avant-garde and avant-garde jazz, but it has a strong influence of various rock styles. It has passionate, loud, vibrant and energetic sound.”
-- Avant Scena, June 3, 2018.
- “Decade of The Dragon by Zack Browning reflects on the resistance and counterculture of America during the Vietnam war, again using elements of rock as well as Vietnamese music. He juxtaposes different idioms and elements in a very inventive and convincing way making it a work full of twists and energy.”
-- Vital Weekly, July 2018.
Debut album of the A/B Duo (Christopher G. Jones, percussion and Meerenai Shim, flutes). Contains the premiere recording of Sol Moon Rocker (commissioned and performed by A/B Duo).
- Sol Moon Rocker for flute/piccolo and percussion (10'27")
- “Scored just for flute and vibraphone, Sol Moon Rocker by Zack Browning is another A/B Duo commission. It has a philosophic basis, the dynamic between yin and yang, between Moon and Sun. Intriguingly, the second part of the work is generated by applying Feng Shui principles to the birth dates of both present performers. It gets deeper still, the section “Meerenai’s Moon Flight” is generated also by the Magic Square of the Moon; “Sol of Chris” has a similar basis, using the Sun Magic Square. References to relevant popular music are there, too, It’s a Man’s World (James Brown), Ladies’ Night (Kool and the Gang) and The Sun and the Moon have Come Together by The Fourth Way. Quite the tapestry, and it works brilliantly. There is actually a spirit of joy that suffuses the musical surface of Browning’s piece; quotations have a sort of exuberance about them. The final section offers a synthesis between male and female. The idea is wonderful, one wonders if some elements of alchemical theory could have been worked in there also?”
-- Marc Medwin, Fanfare, March/April 2017.
Premiere recording of Howler Back (commissioned and performed by the Prism Saxophone Quartet) on their celebration album of the PRISM Quartet's 20th anniversary.
- Howler Back for soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, and baritone saxophone (1'08")
- “But three pieces stand out as stunning, memorable, and immensely enjoyable. They are Zack Browning’s Howler Back, Jennifer Higdon’s Bop, and, perhaps most of all, Perry Goldstein’s Out of Bounds.”
-- Walter Simmons, Fanfare, 2013.
- “Zack Browning’s Howler Back is a one-minute piece that incorporates classical, jazz, and funk (if funk players could negotiate its constant meter changes). The audience’s response was a standing ovation that demanded an encore.”
-- The Palm Beach Daily News about performance of Howler Back, March 18, 2015.
Premiere recording of Funk Assault (commissioned and premiered by the Prism Saxophone Quartet).
- Funk Assault for soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, and baritone saxophone (8'14")
- “James Brown-meets-the World Saxophone Quartet excitement of Zack Browning's Funk Assault.”
-- Richard B. Kamins, Tempest, May 4, 2010.
- “Zack Browning’s Funk Assault is revealed by the composer to have been structured around a Magic Square, but the ears don’t need to know that to enjoy the sharp attacks of the short, driving phrases and the expansive intervals. It’s a nice balance of the intellectual and the hip.”
-- The Big City, Four Brothers, Gandalfe, February 26, 2010.
Premiere recordings of Pure Sweat, Flaming Walls, Coming Up Sevens, and Blacktop Infusion. Performed by Confluences Trio, University of Illinois Percussion Ensemble, and soloists Eric Mandat and Corey Jane Holt.
- Pure Sweat for bass clarinet and computer-generated sounds (7'24")
- Flaming Walls for trumpet, trombone, and piano (7'58")
- Coming Up Sevens for xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, piano, and electic guitar (8'27")
- Blacktop Infusion for piano and computer-generated sounds (7'29")
- “The title Funktasia is more applicable to the music of Zack Browning, which mixes select references to the language of popular music with structures derived from abstruse formal devices like magic squares. His zippy music is made up of short, punchy blasts that are accented by sharp but subtle contrasts of texture between instruments, often between an electronic and an acoustic sound. In the opening Pure Sweat, for example, a bass clarinet veers off from buzzy electronic sounds. The use of the electric guitar in Coming Up Sevens (1987) is notable. It is one of a fairly small group of modern compositions that uses instruments from the popular world but divorces them from its stylistic references -- and plays with the results in interesting ways.”
-- AllMusic, July, 2007.
Recording by Davis Brooks of Sole Injection on a collection of works for violin and electronics.
- Sole Injection for violin and computer-generated sounds (10'00")
- “I'll give you a trippy image to illustrate Zack Browning's Sole Injection for violin and computer-generated sounds - a bullet train, its wheels replaced by "Simon" games, which randomly and rhythmically light up and beep as the train inches along, away from the station and into (let's say) Candyland. Browning's magic square composition techniques, which end up supplying a circular, propulsive, bright electronic background for Brooks' violin.”
-- Nuvo – Indy’s Alternative Voice, January 19, 2011.
Listen to McCormick Percussion Ensemble - Culture Samples - Concerti for Flute and Percussion (Capstone Collection - PARMA's Ravello Records, September 9, 2008)
Premiere recording of Profit Beater for flute and percussion ensemble (commissioned and performed by Kim McCormick, flute and the McCormick Percussion Ensemble.
- Profit Beater for flute and percussion ensemble (11'53")
- “Zack Browning’s Profit Beater strikes me as a real crowd-pleaser. Stately, processional passages alternate with furiously explosive ones - no doubt it would bring the house down in live performance. The end, consciously or by coincidence, mimics the standard Indian practice of repeating the concluding strains of a fast raga several times in succession. Combined with the jazzy lines, it’s a rousing, failsafe device for bringing an audience to its feet.”
-- Fanfare, 2008.
- “Zack Browning’s exciting “Profit Beater” (2007) blends popular aesthetics with modern concert art music. The two stated influences on this work are Santana’s “Jingo,” a popular song that was inspired by the rhythms of a Nigerian artist, and the application of “magic squares” to the formal structure. (It is worth looking up more information on “magic squares,” although it is not required for the enjoyment of this piece.)”
-- Cynthia Stevens, Flutist Quarterly - The Official Magazine of the National Flute Association, Vol. 35, Issue 4, (Summer 2010) - 83.
Premiere recoding of Crack Hammer (commissioned and premiered by Esther Lamneck).
- Crack Hammer for clarinet and computer-generated sounds (8'26")
- “Zack Browning’s Crack Hammer for clarinet and computer-generated sounds provides a welcome sense of fun and humor in an otherwise very serious CD. The composer employs repetitive, additive rhythms with an unpredictable sense of humor. The form and rhythm of this piece were based on a magic square. Ms. Lamneck’s impeccable sense of timing makes the performance very exhilarating.”
-- Music of Our Time, August 29, 2007.
- “Beyond its contemporary gritty title, "Crack Hammer" makes use of Ptolemaic magic squares in its composition, those symmetrical mathematical devices Browning found in Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa Von Nettersheim's 1531 book De Occulta Philosophica. In our own century, with the addition of Esther Lamneck's subtle clarinet, they add up to satisfying electro-acoustic music.”
-- Leonardo On-Line (Leonardo Music Journal), September, 2008.
- “The final work on the CD is Crack Hammer (2004) by Zack Browning. Browning explains that the piece is one of a series in which he explores the application of magic squares to musical structure. A magic square is a series of numbers arranged in a square, so that the sum of each row, column and diagonal is the same. In Von Nettesheims’s De Occulta Philosophia (1531), seven magic squares are associated with the seven bodies of the Ptolemaic universe (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon). Mr. Browning used the magic square of Mars to structure this piece. Each number’s unique position in the square is mirrored in the score by a specific style, rhythm, density, timbre, and orchestration. The resulting work is, perhaps surprisingly, jazzy, with interesting rhythmic patterns, and a sense of playfulness.”
-- Computer Music Journal, Volume 34, Number 3, Fall 2010.
- “Zack Browning’s Crack Hammer, a crackerjack combo of computer and clarinetist - it was a fight to the finish, both contestants making me cheer!”
-- Computer Music Journal review of performance of Crack Hammer, Spring 2005.
Premiere recording of Flute Soldier (commissioned and performed by flautist Andrea Ceccomori).
- Flute Soldier for flute and piano (8'24")
Premiere recoding of Double Shot (commissioned and premiered by Sherban Lupu).
- Double Shot for violin and piano (7'03")
- “Zack Browning's Double Shot (2000) is an engaging moto perpetuo based, according to the composer, on material derived from magic squares. There's no way of knowing how this source relates specifically to the music, but it's just as well, because the energy and momentum of the piece are infectious on their own and, if nothing else, it's obvious the source gives a level of cohesion to the product.”
-- Fanfare, June/July 2004.
Premiere recoding of Breakpoint Screamer. Performed by Ensemble Screamer (composer comducting).
- Breakpoint Screamer for trumpet ensemble and computer-generated sounds (7'01")
- “Breakpoint Screamer by the University of Illinois professor of composition and music theory, Zack Browning, was commissioned by the International Trumpet Guild (ITG) for performance at the 1994 ITG conference at the University of Illinois. Several layers of pulse-oriented patterns bring trumpets and tape together in a unique and fresh way, creating an energy-carrying dramaturgy that culminates towards the end of the 7-minute piece. Each pattern, with a distinct rhythmic and melodic appearance, may change its global position so that not only different patterns get together at different times in the composition, but also with a different local position to each other. Thus, different polyrhythms are constantly created. As the listener learns from the CD cover, the tape used in this piece was produced with GACSS (Genetic Algorithms in Composition and Sound Synthesis), a software package developed by the Illinois composer, artist, and multi-media specialist Benjamin Grosser. With GACSS, sound synthesis and compositional parameters are controlled by genetic algorithms. The timbres generated by the program are classified with regard to their waveform, called breakpoints. Breakpoints specifically represent the number of peaks and the distance between those peaks. The composition Breakpoint Screamer represents an excellent result of this concept, especially considering the combination of instrumental timbres with computer-generated ones and the "dialogue" between trumpets and tape. But most of all, the large-scale concept works - the piece is fascinating up to the last second. That the performance requires five trumpet players instead of two (or three) for such a light texture is another question, but the final, audible result is what counts.”
-- Computer Music Journal, Volume 24 No. 4, Winter 2000.
Premiere recording of Melancholia (commissioned and premiered by Michael Tunnell).
- Melancholia for piccolo trumpet and piano (4'51")
- “The album begins with the title work Melancholia for piccolo trumpet and piano, written in 1985 by Zack Browning. The work is a clever conversational piece between the two instruments with light staccato fragments intermixed with disjunct lyrical passages. It is performed with great precision and accuracy by Micahel Tunnell and his wife Meme.”
-- International Trumpet Guild Journal, February 1992.
Recording of Breakpoint Screamer performed by Ensemble Screamer (composer conducting).
- Breakpoint Screamer for trumpet ensemble and computer-generated sounds (7'01")
Listen to 2017 Midwest Clinic - The United States Coast Guard Saxophone Quartet (Mark Records, April 19, 2018)
Live recording of Howler Back at the 2017 Midwest Clinic in Chicago.
- Howler Back for soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, and baritone saxophone (1'22")
Listen to Rose Shlyam Grace and Friends. Vibrations of Hope - Music of the New Millennium (Albany Records, January 1, 2015)
Premiere recording of Vibrations of Hope performed by Rose Shlyam Grace and Kristie Born.
- Vibrations of Hope for two pianos (13'22")