AMN Reviews: Keeril Makan – Dream Lightly (2019; BMOP Sound)

Keeril Makan is on the music faculty of MIT and Dream Lightly brings together four of his works from the last decade or so. Like many modern composers, his influences are not limited to traditional or classical music, as evidenced by his use of electric guitar on the title track of this release. Having said that, the chamber arrangements herein – recorded between 2006 and 2014 – would fall comfortably within the wide rubric of post-modern classical music, with an emphasis on texture and mood rather than outright dissonance (though the latter rears its head as the album progresses).

The aforementioned title track features gently-plucked electric guitar harmonics throughout with backing from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. It indeed evokes a dream-like or trance-like state with sweeping waves filling out slow-moving horn and string progressions. Particularly, the guitar melodies add a unique twist that is rare in orchestral music. If We Knew the Sky, the longest offering at over 25 minutes, follows. Here, winds, percussion, harp, and strings combine for a sparse and unhurried exploration of long-held notes, chords, and the spaces between. Nonetheless, slightly more than halfway through the pace picks up with a staccato-oriented string and wind theme backed by slow chords and sweeps from the harp. Tender Illusions is another effort that evolves in an unhurried fashion with discordance from a string quartet as well as spiraling bassoon, double bass, and horn themes.   Still finishes up by largely exploring tones from single wood, brass, or stringed chamber instruments or simple combinations thereof. The discordance returns, evoked again by violin and viola.

Despite Makan’s deliberate – often gentle – approach on most of Dream Lightly, the album maintains a sense of discomfort and low-frequency tension. The compositions keep the listener in a slow-burn state, waiting for a seemingly-inevitable surprise that is held in abeyance. This juxtaposition is remarkably compelling as Makan artfully flirts with the avant-garde in the guise of the familiar.

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