AMN Reviews: Christopher Otto – Rag’sma (2021; Greyfade)

Rag’sma can be enjoyed in two different ways. On its face, the album is a compelling set of drones provided by JACK Quartet. But digging a little deeper, the structure of these sustained and ominously lilting sounds follows precise mathematic rules.

Otto is a violinist and founding member of JACK, an outfit that is most known for its interpretations of difficult and challenging pieces of music. Here, Otto has his group employ just intonation in order to obtain variations in tone so minute that they are unlikely to be consciously perceived. Further, the basis of the piece is formed by two combined recordings of JACK that move ever-so-slightly in and out of pitch with one another. Again, one would need a remarkable ear to pick this out, and most of us (this listener included) instead have to settle with the sense of disquiet that the resulting stringed drones provide. But a second variation of Rag’sma is also included, adding a third recording of JACK atop the others. This further pattern ebbs and flows between the original two, unifying them to some extent.

According to Otto, the double quartet variation can stand on its own or be a backing track for a third quartet to improvise upon in accordance with his constraints. Rag’sma would certainly be conducive to live performance in this fashion, but could also work as a sound installation.

Regardless of the technical details, this album comes highly recommended to anyone interested in 8-voice or 12-voice stringed drones. Rag’sma will be released on November 19 by Greyfade.