AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Samuel Andreyev – Iridescent Notation (2020; KAIROS)

Samuel Andreyev’s new album release, Iridescent Notation, comprises works that span his entire compositional career, from his first published work to his most recent work Iridescent Notation, a cantata featuring the poetry of Tom Raworth.  The album is characterized by shifts between pure, ethereal passages, like mobiles or paintings, and noisier passages that evoke urban scenes.  For context, the ‘ethereal’ sections share similarities with Boulez’s Notations for Piano, or Takemitsu, while the ‘noisy’ sections are more comparable to Varese’s Ameriques.  This stylistic difference acts in symbiosis with Raworth’s poetry: while Raworth often writes about the commonplace, his poems simultaneously have an introspective quality and an outward profundity.  

The pieces in this album are often multi-layered and complex, while also retaining a great degree of clarity and conciseness.  This has just as much to do with Andreyev’s compositional technique as it does with the excellent balance and sound spatialization executed by conductor Luigi Gaggiero, the performers of the Ukho Ensemble, and sound engineer Andrii Mokrytskyi. 

The compositions in Iridescent Notation prioritize interactions between instruments, with an acute sensitivity to timbre and spatiality.  While some of the pieces in the album have a somewhat large instrumentation, one is never presented with a muddy orchestration, or an impermeable wall of cinematic-sounding orchestral music.  Instead, each instrumental detail serves a specific role and occupies a part of the musical space.  In this way, pieces like A Propos du La Conciert de la Semaine Derniere and Iridescent Notation are similar to Webern’s Op. 10.  Broadly, the pieces are gestural and mesmerizing on the surface level, and it generally takes multiple listens before one can comprehend the trajectories and interactions between passages that allow each piece to fully manifest itself.    

Some pieces make reference to Andreyev’s other works, both by localized sonic moments and in a broader, structural sense.  A dichotomous organization in I. The inventor Projected, recalls his piece Verifications: I., which is arranged in a diptych that juxtaposes a rapidly shifting passage with a more drawn-out, restful passage.  This sort of organization has a unique psychological effect on our time perception–the presentation of differing rates of novel information literally affects how we perceive time.  While this effect is certainly a striking feature of the music, the more lasting quality is one’s complete immersion in the music, and a sense of the music living.  The presence of the Casio SK-1 keyboard in Iridescent Notation creates another parallel with Verifications, Andreyev’s only other piece to use the instrument. 

Soprano (Maren Shwier) and first violinist (Rachel Koblyakov) are particularly commendable performers in this album.  Shwier shows control and expressivity throughout Iridescent Notation.  Her performance in VI. Come Back, Come Back, O Glittering and White is extremely beautiful, and she handles the wild juxtapositions in movement IV. with ease.  Koblyakov breathes an organic, timbral instability into sul ponticello harmonics in V. Pressing, Turning and manages to make runs of notes expand and bulge in a surreal way.  Dina Pysarenko’s performance on piano in A Propos du La Conciert de la Semaine Derniere must be mentioned as well.  Her sense of balance–making notes appear as inflections of others, as well as her ability to make a sustained note carry through a phrase and resurface–brings out details that are essential to this piece.  

As a fan of Andreyev’s music for many years, Iridescent Notation is one of his most captivating pieces yet, and the Ukho Ensemble gives vibrant performances of his previously-recorded pieces.  

AMN Interviews

AMN Interviews: Nao Shirawachi (opLo)

Nao Shirawachi, also known as opLo, is a composer and sonic artist from Tokyo.  opLo has an extremely distinct style that incorporates industrial sounds, repetitive melodic elements, and complex, irregular rhythms. His shifting musical textures have a spatial element that reflects his visual art.  While opLo often superimposes two tracks he has created at different tempi, the rhythms in these pieces can rarely be heard as patterns adhering to two perceptible tempi.  Instead, the resulting effect of this technique is a series of interactions between irregular rhythmic impulses with a certain elasticity.  opLo is self-reportedly influenced by diverse composers and musicians ranging from Ryoji Ikeda to Charlie Parker and Bjork. Yet, he says that more than taking influence from other musicians and composers, he is most inspired by the sounds that exist in the various types of environments around him. His music can be found on his Instagram page, oplono.

How did you develop your unique approach to rhythm and texture? 

I used to have a group or unit with my friend who studied percussion music for a while in West Africa.  He’s a jazz drummer and performer.  We used to play and improvise by hitting and tapping on tables and glass bottles, creating beats and rhythms like this together.  I think this had a major influence on how I approach rhythm today.  We also would host events in my apartment at the time, playing music that we were creating.  As my techniques and interests have been getting more specific and refined, however, I’ve moved away from this type of music, and I’ve been focusing on creating these shorter types of sound worlds.

Could you tell me about your musical background and training?

I think it’s incredibly important to be unique as an artist regardless of traditional methodology.  Thinking about “how to make this type of painting or drawing, how to make this kind of music”–I think this could lead me to limit myself into some kind of framework. 

Also, I used to have this complex that I’m uneducated in music theory and history. However, I’ve realized my strength could be related to this lack of traditional knowledge.  Since I don’t know much formal methodology and theory, I feel my own art is less limited in some ways.  So that’s how I currently perceive my artwork and talent. 

What does your musical process look like?  How do you create your signature rhythms that are irregular and unresolved, yet still build tension and sound intuitive?

First of all, I always make my beats to a metronome, but I don’t really strictly follow it. I don’t react to it with my brain, in a conscious way.  Instead, my body just reacts to that universal click.  It’s a very intuitive process, so I don’t think I can necessarily answer your question logically.

In my process I usually start by creating layers of rhythm.  I use a beat pad with a certain number of preset sounds, and I work at a certain tempo.  I go along and make the initial layer at one tempo, and then I often record other tracks at different tempi, while still working with the same percussion and noise sounds.  After I create the beats at different tempi, I can layer the different tracks at the same time. Then, the resulting sound is going to be somewhat like Autechre-this way it sounds very organic, yet cohesive at the same time.  I usually add melodies and other elements last in my process.  Also, I usually add different elements after remaining in a certain sound for a while, or have two or three distinct changes in my tracks.  Combining disparate tracks and seeing which segments I can extract and use from them is what I enjoy most in my process.  

What types of musicians and genres inspire you and influence your work?

I really enjoy rock, techno, and other styles of electronic music.  Maybe instead of listening to other musicians, however, I prefer to listen to the sounds that I hear outside. For example sometimes trains create some sort of interesting rhythmic beat, and then on top of that birds are tweeting at a different pace.  I try to abstract from these experiences and express them in my music.  

On your Instagram account, most of your pieces are about a minute long.  It seems that in each one of these posts, you tend to remain within a specific sonority, and sometimes you juxtapose and contrast two different sonorities. Have you created any longer pieces?

I actually used to create longer pieces.  The average length was around eight minutes.  However, when I began posting on Instagram, I decided to find the shortest minimum length of time that was needed to express what I actually can do.  In recent days, due to too much work, I haven’t been able to work on longer pieces. So, at the moment I purely focus on creating one-minute versions of the music together with the visual art-work.  I enjoy working in that type of time-scale.  

What are some of the types of sounds that you’ve recorded, and what type of equipment do you use?

I used to collect ambient sounds with my partner–we’d take a hand recorder and go to all sorts of places.  Sometimes it would be in airports, which are interesting since they have very high ceilings that reflect the noise people make in a unique way.  Sometimes I would make a hole in the lid of my recorder, and place small motors around the device.  I’ve experimented with many ways of creating sounds and noise to use in musical pieces.

Some of the noise sounds I use are from opening up radio, and manipulating its components.  As of recently, basically all the sounds and resources I use are created purely in software.  However, I’ve found that collecting ambient sounds is generally not worth the time for me, since it takes so much time and the outcome and quality of the sounds is usually not so fantastic.  I do get inspired from those sources, though.  

How would you characterize your process of creating visual art, and how does your visual art relate to your music compositions? 

My approach to visual art is similar to my musical approach.  I began creating visual art long before music, actually. I like to take walks outside and take short videos of scenes I find compelling.  Sometimes I create visuals first and then put music on top, and sometimes it’s the other way around.  I’ll listen to isolated sounds or my music while taking a walk outside, and if I see some sort of synchronicity, I take the visual information and compile it later on.

What do you mean by synchronicity?

It’s all intuitive, and it’s hard to explain, but when I hear sounds, I often visualize the sound information into color.  When I hear musical information, I pair different sound textures and pitches with color: “this sound is blue, this sound is reddish, etc.”  I think this has certainly influenced me to create art in which music and visuals are interdependent.  

Generally, I’m really excited by the idea of merging different types of music.  There is tons of potential to create completely novel sounds by merging and balancing different styles and genres.  I think there are so many different musical elements that can be combined.  I’m interested in combining sounds with visuals, or sounds with smells.  I think considering ways of connecting disparate elements is very interesting. 

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Léa Boudreau – Chaos Contrôlé (2020; DAME / Mikroclimat)

Léa Boudreau’s new album Chaos Contrôlé includes sounds created solely through the ‘bending’ of circuits in electronic toys.  The music in Chaos Contrôlé is glitchy and paroxysmal in an extremely attention-grabbing way. While the compositional process used in this project would seem to pose significant limitations, this does not impede Boudreau in any way: she manages to create unbelievably imaginative sonic objects and to retain great control in manipulating these sounds.  

The sounds in the album are at once playful, colorful, and abrasive–somewhat like a musical embodiment of Trenton Doyle Hancock’s artwork.  Aggressive percussive forces, paired with children’s songs, create a dark and sardonic tone. While this comical element is present throughout the album, Boudreau does more than simply express a type of creepy humor.  The album addresses themes of childhood, blending the perspectives of child and parent by including titles that imply a parent’s advice to his or her child, and other titles and musical elements that express a child’s wonder.  Some of the themes are historically specific, while others are universal–Boudreau addresses anxieties and naiveté.

While the incorporation of toys and distorted children’s songs is novel and interesting in this album, many other evocative textures emerge throughout the work.  Retro synthesizers and video game sounds interact and are layered upon one another, creating visual and cultural associations. Computerized, swarm-like textures in Amies imaginaires (et autres incomprises) seem reminiscent of the impulsions from Stockhausen’s Gesang Der Jünglinge.  This album is a ‘song of the youth’ in a different way however, in its incorporation of toys and children’s songs, and more generally in Boudreau’s fresh and relevant perspective.  Amid the digital chaos of the album, there are beautiful waning moments, like in How to navigate through social anxiety in 3 easy steps. In this piece, contemplative harmonies are meditated on, and there are even some impressionistic sonorities that quell the musical landscape.  

Overall, Chaos Contrôlé is a decidedly experimental album that expands the classical electronic music canon in a very interesting way.  This is an exciting and imaginative project that I am sure I will return to many times in the future.  

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Steven Mackey – Time Release (2019; BMOP/sound)

Each piece in Steven Mackey’s album Time Release demonstrates his ability to incorporate varied and imaginative orchestral textures and gestures into a cohesive narrative. Mackey’s music has neo-romantic elements, comprising gestural melodic expression and dialectical forms.  He largely uses extended tonality with chromaticism. However, there are frequent non-diatonic and polytonal interjections that are vaguely reminiscent of Charles Ives’ music, as well as textural sections with disorienting pitch content. Notably, Mackey employs these extended tonal sonorities without sounding trite or cinematic.  The well-balanced and masterful orchestration of Mackey’s music is handled equally masterfully by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s performance of the work.

Gestural polyrhythms and momentary metric modulations in Mackey’s piece Time Release create a sense of time morphing, possibly reflecting the album’s title.  In Time Release: I. Stately – Short/Long, the percussion assumes more than an ornery role, with wood blocks, various earthy percussion instruments and hanging cymbals creating a textured groove and rhythmic dialogue.  This is one high point of the album: a refined percussion groove, ornamented with refreshing pitches from the marimba, progresses over swaying and shifting string gestures. Later in the piece, marimba solos are accompanied by a contrapuntal string melody.  This unique instrumental combination continuously returns throughout Time Release and adds levity to the piece.  As Time Release unfolds, different instruments such as the clarinet and horn are given soloistic autonomy.  The marimba continues to engage in compelling dialogue with the orchestra and various soloistic forces throughout the piece.  

Another high point of the album is Mackey’s piece Urban Ocean, in which suspended coloristic moments (the piece’s beginning, for example) are incorporated into the narrative of the piece.  These are interesting timbral and harmonic moments–bearing a vague resemblance to some spectral music–in which Mackey forms unique acoustic presentations by combining the various symphonic forces.  Other pieces in Time Release are recognizably ‘Mackey’ for their expressive, tuneful melodies, as well as their transient, shifting tone and atmosphere.  

While Mackey is known to incorporate elements of rock music into his compositions, this album only somewhat reflects that aspect of his work.  The album does, however, have some sections which evoke rock as well as other musical genres: the widespread use of the clave, an Afro-Cuban rhythmic pattern (Turn The Key), as well as an energetic, rock-infused percussion solo (Time Release: II. Playful Turbulence – Slow/Fast), display Mackey’s interest for musical styles that are commonly untouched in contemporary classical music.  

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Andrea Cheeseman – SOMEWHERE (2019; Ravello Records)

Clarinetist and electroacoustic composer Andrea Cheeseman achieves a remarkable range of sonorities and atmospheres from the clarinet and recorded sound in “Somewhere,” while achieving a common aesthetic throughout the album.  Cheeseman’s clarinet lines are often of main focus in these pieces: verdant, thoughtful melodic lines evoke Stravinsky and Bartok.  Cheeseman frequently employs recognizable sonic samples, along with disfigured percussion with industrial qualities.  Her use of panning effects and attention to register creates tangible layers of depth and dimension.  These effects sometimes border on the cinematic.  

To highlight the range of sounds and techniques Cheeseman uses, in one song human breathing, accompanying the clarinet, transforms into currents of rattling sound. A Gnawa-like groove consisting of sampled weaving loom sounds drives Penelope’s Song forward, while processed bird calls appear in another piece.  Breath has a fascinating celestial atmosphere reminiscent of Gamelan music, with a vaporized mosaic of microtonal pitches.   

While recorded sound and polystylism are important aspects of “Somewhere,” Cheeseman also creates interest using more basic musical elements.  Arioso Doubles opens with clarinet lines that metamorphose into shimmering feedback, which sometimes harmonize with the clarinet.  Cheeseman’s clarinet lines are often angular and tonally disorienting, yet they retain an organic quality.  Moments appear in Ariosa Doubles that could render the piece polystylistic: accompanied by a rich timbral sheet of processed harmony, one section of the piece sounds like a reminiscence of folk music—bare, yet honest and evocative.  Cheeseman transitions back to more complex pitch organizations after this simple melodic section.  

The folk music sonority found in Ariosa Doubles reappears throughout the album, most distinctly in the piece Favorable Odds. Pentatonic clarinet lines create impressionistic atmospheres that morph into sounds of English folk music.  Favorable Odds is certainly polystylistic:  The pentatonic opening transitions to an unquantized stammering of electronic blips and buzzes, which turns into a forward driving groove with bluesy clarinet lines.  While this sounds like an impossible conglomeration of sonorities, the piece has a striking amount of integrity. 

The juxtaposition of musical styles, including adapted world music styles, urges the listener to develop a narrative about the relationship between the eras and cultures belonging to each style.  The episodic arrangement of different styles creates potential for a rich polyvalence of narratives, which could involve topics like technological progression and nature, or globalization.  From a purely aesthetic perspective, Cheeseman’s album contrasts sonorities that are distinctive and compelling in order to create elaborate sound environments.  

Thomas McGee