AMN Reviews: TAK Ensemble & Taylor Brook – Star Maker Fragments (2021; TAK Editions)

TAK Ensemble is a new-classical quintet of Laura Cocks on flute, Madison Greenstone on clarinet, Marina Kifferstein on violin, Charlotte Mundy on vocals, and Ellery Trafford on percussion, with Taylor Brook contributing electronics. Star Maker Fragments is a long-form piece based on texts from the 1937 science fiction novel Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon. In it, Stapledon explored numerous philosophical and sociological issues, such as racism, class struggle, income inequality, and religion across an array of universes created by a blind watchmaker god.

The group puts the novel’s text to music with a varied and shimmering set of movements that dovetail seamlessly with Brook’s electronics. Mundy relies almost entirely on the spoken-word recitation of excerpts from the Stapledon. Instrumentation focuses on textures and drones that match up to varying extents with the words. This approach flexes its subtle power toward the end of the piece with Mundy switching to wordless oscillations as the electronics come to resemble field recordings and the instruments follow a less structured path. Spanning 45 minutes, the piece covers a lot of ground. But just as compelling is Star Maker Postlude, a 10-minute electroacoustic mix that is both introspective and refreshingly weird. Without lyrics, the track creates a haunting and strange soundscape that easily could stand on its own without the main piece.

Comparisons can be made to other artist-driven classical ensembles, such as ICE and Dal Niente, but the prime role and creative uses of electronics set TAK Ensemble apart. Star Maker Fragments will be released on March 3 by the group’s TAK Editions label.

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