“Todd Levin was born 33 years ago in Detroit. Currently he lives in New York City and works at Sotheby’s.”

This liner note, from the Deutsche Grammophon’s 1995 release of De Luxe, is the last clue we have as to the whereabouts of the composer Todd Levin. After that, the composer seems to have dropped out of music entirely. Over a decade later, the internet barely acknowledges his existence. I had to resort to scanning my liner notes just to get an obscured photo of the guy.

A website for (apparently) a Stanford radio station is one of the few places to find a review of Levin’s music: “this New York (by way of Detroit) composer’s latest album will be reviled by most fans of classical music (modern and traditional alike) as well as by [Deutsche Grammophon’s] presumed intended target audience of young hipsters. That leaves those who appreciate irony, camp, and audacity, not to mention orchestral music with a backbeat.”

If you know anything about me, you have already plugged me into that last sentence.

I am generally suspicious of folks who claim deep connections to particular pieces of music. The teen in his bedroom who’s convinced Coldplay’s latest single is the theme of his tumultuous suburban life; the couple who note when “their song” comes on the radio. Music is written by real people in historical contexts; claiming a work you enjoy as completely your own seems to me an attempt to strip the thing of much of what makes it worthwhile in the first place.

But in Todd Levin’s compositions I sense an artist aiming at something bigger. He wants to tap into the larger context of modern human life. (I should say “postmodern” here, but that sounds too pretentious.) Like modern life, his music is frenetic, disjointed and often confusing. It reflects a hodgepodge of cultural influences, and draws on them haphazardly. It is at turns beautiful and violent, and it’s always being driven forward by the tyranny of the mechanical clock (or metronome).

It is, in a word, brilliant.

Help me bring this talented composer out of hiding. You can sample his music [July 28 update: samples are gone now, bummer], or get in touch with me if you’d like to hear the complete works (this isn’t stuff you can buy on iTunes or at your local record store). You can also become a fan of the Todd Levin Facebook page.


May 10, 2008