The Music of Arthur Jarvinen

The majority of Arthur Jarvinen's musical compositions are for instrumental ensembles, mostly in non- traditional groupings. In addition to chamber music, his catalogue includes one work for chamber orchestra, various large ensembles, numerous compositions for rock bands and jazz combos, and songs in various styles. Jarvinen is also an experienced improvisor, most often performing in that context on a unique analog electronics setup he calls "The Skeezix".

Jarvinen's music is informed as much by the compositional experiments and innovations of "serious" composers as by vernacular idioms. His own experience in rock, jazz, and blues bands accounts not only for the rhythmic vitality characteristic of his works, but for many of his orchestrational preferences as well. For example, his popular Egyptian Two-Step owes much of its unique character to the combination of piccolo, chromatic harmonica, and baritone saxophone (not to mention the use of spray cans as rhythm instruments). The Paces of Yu features percussion instruments built from household objects such as window shutters and mouse traps, and a solo part for berimbau (a Brazilian folk instrument). None of these choices are made for their novelty, however, but grow directly out of the composer's own interests and expertise as a performer, as well as the needs of the works themselves.

In recent years Jarvinen has been composing fewer individual, unrelated pieces, focusing more on large scale structures and collections with a particular conceptual basis. This trend started in 1997, when he spent the year composing a twenty-four hour piano solo, Serious Immobilities, consisting of 840 variations on Erik Satie's enigmatic Vexations. The following year saw the development of The Hole-Flow Symphony, a template for improvising with electronics and instruments that is meant to be a continuing work in progress as long as the composer chooses to explore the idea. Next came Ambulant Music for Erik Satie, A Journal In Music, 1999. That was essentially a strategy for creative activity, requiring Jarvinen to compose something each day of the year. Not meant to be published or evaluated as a work per se, it contains numerous independent complete works for various media, as well as being an intriguing document of one man's creative process. Jarvinen spent 2001 exploring the "concept album" with Sgt. Pekker, an "anti-thology" of humorous songs based on or inspired by the Beatles, recorded with MIDI on his computer with Jarvinen providing all vocals. Continuing in a songwriting mode but in a completely different mood, Jarvinen next produced Nighthawks, a staged song cycle on paintings by Edward Hopper. The work had its premiere in May 2003 at the Los Angeles Theater Center with the composer as lead vocalist and narrator.

Jarvinen's first web-based work is The Invisible Guy – a real soundtrack for an imaginary spy film. A collection of fifty tunes in classic surf and secret agent style with story lines and related visuals for each, it was uploaded in weekly installments, like a serial novel, and is now permanently online. His newest web work is Tribal Songs of the Andromeda, an audio book of short stories read by speech synthesis software accompanied by shortwave radio recordings.

(photo of Arthur Jarvinen by Roman Cho, 2002)


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