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The Knee Plays

4.7 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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The Knee Plays (Nonesuch store / Amazon)
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Audio CD, November 6, 2007
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

David Byrne's 1985 Music For The Knee Plays, which he revived last winter in concert form during his sold-out Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall, has for many years been a kind of orphaned work. Until now, it hasn't been available on CD, and vinyl and cassette copies have long been scarce. Byrne had been invited to compose the 12-song piece by avant-garde theatre director/impresario Robert Wilson, with whom Philip Glass had collaborated on Einstein on the Beach, as part of his 12-hour opera the Civil Wars: A Tree Is Best Measured When It's Down. Commissioned by the Olympic Arts Festival for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, this day-long undertaking was comprised of six parts by separate composers Wilson had selected from around the world. Byrne's contribution was a series of interludes to be performed between the larger sections; critic Mel Gussow of the New York Times called them joints or connectives between the long acts of the CIVIL Wars. Funding shortfalls prevented the Civil Wars from being realized at the time and it has yet to be performed in its entirety. This CD/DVD edition of Music For The Knee Plays includes a slide show of black and white photographs by JoAnn Verburg, who had shot stills of the original production at 30-second intervals, creating a thorough visual document of the piece. In addition to the 13-track score that had been released in '85 by ECM Records, Byrne has selected seven previously unavailable instrumental tracks he'd recorded for The Knee Plays.

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The Knee Plays were commissioned in 1985 by avant-garde theatre director Robert Wilson for his 12-hour opera, CIVIL warS. David Byrne was one of six composers hand-selected for the opera, and his interludes were the joints between the larger acts. CIVIL warS was never performed in its entirety, but The Knee Plays did just that in various U.S. and European cities. The brass stars in this show, on both the rhythm and melody fronts, yet most of the songs mope along like a funeral march when they aren't providing dramatic tension. For all of Byrne's heady explorations, the man has an ample populist streak, and one needn't comprehend this music so much as merely sit back and enjoy it. In his peculiar deadpan, Byrne speaks in several pieces: a geeky, meticulous parsing of our daily the minutia (getting dressed, grocery shopping, writing letters, etc.). Subtly droll observational humor (or implicit criticism) reigns, just as Byrne fans expect. In treating The Knee Plays to their first release on CD, Nonesuch adds eight instrumental versions and a bonus DVD, featuring the original 57-minute theatrical performance as a slideshow with music. In all, it's an unearthed essential for Byrne fans. --Jason Pace

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Product details

  • Audio CD (November 6, 2007)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Wea/Atlantic/Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B000VEA320
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #219,961 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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on November 6, 2007
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on June 19, 2015
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