AMN Reviews: neoN – neon [Aurora ACD5084]

acd5084-300x300This self-titled CD is the first from Norwegian new music ensemble neon. In addition to its instrumentation of violin and cello, guitar, piano, percussion, flute, clarinet, saxophone and voice, the group includes the composers Kristine Tjøgersen, Jan Martin Smørdal, and Julian Skar, who are represented here by one composition each.

Although differing in ways both subtle and pronounced, neoN’s composers do seem to share an aesthetic of understatement that tends toward an interplay of chiaroscuro, often ambiguous sound colors. The emphasis is on color and sound mass rather than melody; instrumental voices frequently coalesce into timbres that subsume their individual identities into novel aggregate timbres. There is also a tendency toward relatively low, relatively even dynamics with generous use of space.

Skar’s Kunsten å Tvile 2 is exemplary. The work highlights drones comprised of long, almost pitchless tones whose timbres slowly evolve as the drones progress. In a radical shift of mood, Skar breaks up the drones with sudden outbursts of frenetic, wordless vocals. Tjøgersen’s Trending Light 2 opens with a whisper and surges of prolonged aggregate timbres until it too is broken up, in this case by nervously tapped notes on the piano’s lower register. Smørdal’s subtly industrial My Favorite Thing 2 places short phrases on flute over a pacing, machine-simulating rhythm and drawn-out notes on clarinet.

Two pieces by outside composers complete the set. Oren Ambarchi and James Rushford’s Monocots, an episodic piece broken by abrupt stops and silences filled with the sound of water pouring, foregrounds deliberately plucked guitar arpeggios and chords stabbing through astringent planes of sound. neoN also interprets Alvin Lucier’s Two Circles for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and sine waves. Incrementally unfolding over the course of eighteen minutes, the composition’s movement comes from the gradual convergence and divergence of drones as pitches rise and fall, throwing up microtonal beats, pulses and wobbles as overtones collide and separate.

Daniel Barbiero