Country : United States Label : Cantaloupe Music Genres and styles : Art Pop / Contemporary / Folk / Minimalist Year : 2023

Ghost Train Orchestra / Kronos Quartet – Songs and Symphoniques: The Music of Moondog

· by Frédéric Cardin

In my top 5 of the most influential 20th-century scholarly composers from “unconventional” backgrounds and genres, there’s certainly Ennio Morricone, Frank Zappa and Moodog (aka Louis Hardin, or vice-versa). While the first two have achieved a degree of recognition from the contemporary establishment, Moondog has yet to be formalized as such. And yet, this creator who was also blind, who wrote vertical scores on cardboard sheets in Braille, and who was incredibly prolific (over 400 works), adored by a whole underground musical fauna, still remains scorned by the academic world. A huge mistake.

Oh yes, Moondog, for most of his working life, was homeless. Doesn’t that tell you something about these people? Before squatting in the home of a benevolent family in Germany in the last years of his life, he actually “ran a professional office” on the corner of 6th Avenue and 53rd Street in Manhattan. Dressed in a cape, self-made clothes and a remarkable Viking helmet, he was known as ”The Viking of 6th Avenue”. Few of his fellow countrymen who came across him must have known that he was a true contemporary composer, admittedly eccentric (wasn’t Satie?), but certainly one of the great originals of his time. 

Through seemingly simple minimalism, he humorously synthesized classical counterpoint, early European music, jazz, pop and folk. His scores were written for just about every imaginable formation, from banjo solo to large symphony orchestra, string quartet, harmonium, bass drum and more. In the jumble of his life and his surprising but rarely unpleasant musical explorations, there are tons of little treasures. Don’t believe me? Listen to this joyful Songs and Symphoniques – The Music of Moondog by the Ghost Train Orchestra assisted by the very “legit” Kronos Quartet and you’ll be won over. Unless you’re irredeemably purist and uptight, you’ll discover and accept the fact that Moondog is such an unclassifiable composer, so vibrant with luminous good humour, so simple and naive in his discreet and appealing sophistication, so fiercely authentic that one can only marvel at the immense possibilities that will open up to the world’s music lovers when the serious contemporary music community finally begins to explore and interpret his immense catalogue. 

An indispensable album played with finesse and recorded with great quality, perhaps heralding the long-awaited advent of official recognition.

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