In describing what music sounds like it’s virtually impossible to avoid falling back on metaphors and similes of various kinds; as it happens, the most musically suggestive figures and comparisons come from the language of the visual arts. And so it is that Canadian composer Jordan Nobles titles his 30-minute-long Chiaroscuro (2014/2020) after a painterly technique; but unlike chiaroscuro, which exploits the binary opposition of light and shadow, Chiaroscuro exploits multifaceted interactions of instrumental color. Nobles’ basic material consists of clusters of voices defined by their particular fusions of timbres rather than by conventional melodies or harmonies; he arranges these clusters as a sequence of semi-independent events taking place within a virtually static rhythmic framework. The atmosphere is suspenseful and palpably, if subtly, tense.
Running at half the length of the quasi-immobile Chiaroscuro is the strongly rhythmic Pulses (1998) which, as its title suggests, is a piece constructed of pulse-based melodic patterns and their variations. As with Chiaroscuro, the focus of the piece is on changes of instrumental color. In contrast to the longer work, in the shorter Pulses a steady rhythm provides the continuity binding a series of smoothly segued, gradually evolving aggregations of instrumental timbres. Nobles keeps the undistractingly simple melodic material moving among constantly changing subgroups of different sizes and makeup; the result is an absorbing work that revels in the sheer beauty of sound-color dynamics.