The Quiet Music Ensemble is a new music quintet from Cork, Ireland with the unusual makeup of low strings, trombone, clarinet and electric guitar. Since its first performance in 2008, it has commissioned and premiered works by contemporary composers from Europe and America. The Mysteries beyond Matter, their first CD, includes three pieces written for them as well as one composition by the group’s musical director and founder, electric guitarist John Godfrey.
With the opening track, David Toop’s night leaves breathing, the ensemble have a work living up to the promise of their name. A piece inspired by a moment when Toop was captivated by the nuances of sounds just audible, night leaves breathing is, quiet appropriately, a finely drawn sonic ambience of open audio space interrupted by rustling sounds and a hum impinging at the borders of hearing. The title of the piece, with its ambiguous use of the word “leaves”—verb or noun?—parallels the acousmatic ambiguity of the sounds themselves.
Alvin Lucier’s Shadow Lines, by contrast, calls for the full-bodied appearance of the instruments as voices in an elaborate, microtonally-informed tableau of rising and falling pitches pushing against static drones. While clarinetist Seán Mac Erlaine and trombonist Roddy O’Keeffe hold single tones Godfrey, double bassist Dan Bodwell and cellist Ilse De Ziah traverse the space of a major third with glissandi running up and down. The strings’ long-held notes approach and veer away from each other and the winds, creating as they do audible beats varying in speed and intensity with the microtonal distance between them.
The title track, Pauline Oliveros’s The Mysteries beyond Matter, is a work centered on natural and artificial resonances and the effects of live electronics on acoustic instruments. As with her Deep Listening Band’s recent Dunrobin Sound Gems collection, the piece includes an audio engineer as a member of the ensemble, and creates a rich, low reverberant roar that gradually resolves into a rocking pedal point on double bass and cello.
The CD closes with Godfrey’s Hand Tinted Soundscape, a work based on field recordings. Another quiet piece and the perfect complement and bookend to night leaves breathing, Hand Tinted Soundscape is a transparent sound texture broken by birdsong and the occasional spluttering of a passing motorbike.
An auspicious debut; one hopes for more from this group.