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  • The Sea Ranch Songsby Aleksandra Vrebalov
  • John Pippen
The Sea Ranch Songs. Aleksandra Vrebalov, music; Andrew Lyndon, video; the Kronos Quartet. Liner notes by David Harrington, Donlyn Lyndon, and Aleksandra Vrebalov. Cantaloupe Music CA21122, 2016, CD and DVD (sixty-four minutes).

About three hours' drive north of San Francisco one finds Sea Ranch, California, a planned seaside community of some thirteen hundred residents. Established in 1965 on an old sheep ranch, the scattered community holds the land in common and promotes a minimum-impact yet modern approach to living. The community prospered over the years, and newcomers have built additional homes on the rugged landscape. In 2015 the Sea Ranch community commissioned Aleksandra Vrebalov, Andrew Lyndon, and the Kronos Quartet to create a piece of music to commemorate its fiftieth anniversary. The result is The Sea Ranch Songs, with music composed by Vrebalov and performed by the Kronos Quartet. Lyndon created a film version set to the music that uses footage of the land, various buildings, and native wildlife.

In both content and packaging, The Sea Ranch Songsis a beautiful work of art. The Kronos Quartet sounds excellent. The music is played passionately, with clear attacks and expressive phrasing. Over the years, this quartet has established a reputation for exciting renditions of the latest works, and The Sea Songslives up to this sterling reputation. The packaging includes extensive notes by Vrebalov and an essay about Sea Ranch by Donlyn Lyndon, one of the community's founders. The work presents a perspective of Sea Ranch that foregrounds the views of community members and includes numerous audio samples of interviews conducted with Sea Ranchers. Available as both an audio-only CD and a DVD, the work is best experienced in the audiovisual format. Vrebalov's music, while thoughtful and fitting to the occasion, gains depth when heard along with Lyndon's visuals.

The Sea Ranch Songsappeals to future generations by concentrating on the relationship residents have with the land. The piece portrays the land as a dynamic and invaluable rhizomatic entity. Interviewees heard in the piece describe the land as made up of many things—pebbles, hermit crabs, rip tides, birds, the wind, a special tree, stars in the night, and hedges—which all come together in a unique environment. Over the years, residents have taken legal steps to protect this idealization of nature. Community guidelines require committee approval of any new constructions, and documents available on the Sea Ranch website outline the proper relationship between residents and the land. The Sea Ranch Design Manual and Rulesassert, "This is not a place for the grand architectural statement; it is a place to explore the subtle nuances of fitting-in—blending buildings into the existing environmental setting and the historical context." 1As far as the film shows, builders have obeyed this command, creating homes that, while remarkable, nevertheless settle into the landscape.

The Sea Ranch SongsDVD presents a utopic depiction of the land through imagery collage, audio samples of natural sounds and resident interviews, and original music. Beginning with the "Traveler's Song," sung by Kashia-Pomo medicine man Lorin Smith, Sea Ranch Songsmoves through a variety of musical and visual settings, with buildings and locations portrayed almost as characters. "Fort Ross Chorale" features footage of Fort Ross, founded in the early nineteenth [End Page 247]century by the Russian-American Company. Here, the music brings together old hymnody with fragments of melody that never fully develop. This postminimal style features strongly in much of Vrebalov's music. The score portrays a place that can be beautiful and still while at different times achieving a frightening level of activity: violin cadenzas over thickly textured forte strings for the churning ocean in "Elements II"; static-seeming high string harmonics for the stunning Sea Ranch Chapel; and simple homophonic fragmentary tunes paired with interview snippets for the final movement, "Gratitude, Coda."

The third movement, "Gratitude," presents a thesis statement of sorts for the piece overall and uses footage of a calm ocean, beaches, and various bays. We hear numerous fragments of interviews from Sea Ranchers mixed with major mode quasi-tonal string writing. Vrebalov allows...


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