What springs to mind when you think of Cincinnati? For me, it's spaghetti chili, the Reds, and Doris Day.
But how about it being one of the midwest's secret capitals of modernist architecture and art? If that comes as a surprise, you're not alone. When keyboardist-sound designer Tony Miracle moved there a few years ago, he thought he knew the city inside out. After all, he'd grown up there. A self-described "modernist obsessive," Miracle soon discovered a hidden wealth of amazing buildings and houses in his hometown.
Inspired, he began writing melodies. Or composing about architecture, if you will. And that's how this intriguing collection was born.
As one of the masterminds behind electronic pop trio Venus Hum, Miracle is particularly well-suited to the creative task at hand. A producer-programmer (who flies solo as Satellite City), he approaches composition like a kind of sonic architect, constructing elegant soundscapes with ear-tickling modern flourishes.
Considering Frank Lloyd Wright's "The Boulter House," Miracle twists strands of plaintive flute and guitar around synthesized harpsichords and laptop whirs and clicks, then employs acoustic piano chords to describe the architect's clean lines and planes. "The Vontz Center For Molecular Studies," a whimsical building you have to see to believe--it looks like it's inhaling and exhaling--is captured with a kind of Raymond Scott playfulness, all toy piano, distorted beeps and bloops. The Martian-looking concrete lilypads at "Bellevue Hill Park" are conveyed through a kind of ELO-meets-Morricone pulsing romp.
Along with the architecture, Miracle also pays loving tribute to celebrated Cincinnati illustrator and painter Charley Harper. On the charming "Birch Bark and Birds" and "Song For Charley Harper," he uses melodic repetition with a palette of nylon string guitars, mellotron flutes and ba-ba vocals like colorful blobs of paint, matching Harper's almost child-like approach to a canvas.
Of course, it's not necessary to have seen the architecture or works of art referenced here to enjoy this beautiful record. But chances are, after a few spins, you might find yourself considering a weekend trip to Cincinnati to check out the source material. • Bill DeMain