AMN Reviews: Ensemble neoN – Niblock/Lamb [Hubro HUBROCD2601]

For their new CD, Ensemble neoN, a Norwegian chamber group dedicated to performing works of new music, chose to program together two conceptually and sonically dovetailing works by composers Phill Niblock and Catherine Lamb. Call it two perspectives on drone music.

Niblock’s To Two Tea Roses (2012), a paradigmatic work, is a long-tone composition for combined live and prerecorded orchestras. Niblock makes good use of nuanced movement within a solid block of sound, giving the piece the character of a sustained, suspended major chord with a fluctuating undertow of microtonal disquiet. Ensemble neoN’s realization employs an octet of winds, strings, piano and bowed vibes that fuses into a composite voice that has the ringing sound and subtle, cyclical dynamics of a particularly dense tamboura.

Catherine Lamb’s Parallax Forma (2016), like To Two Tea Roses a long-tone work, is less dense than Niblock’s and includes more overt harmonic movement. The piece’s foreground is dominated by singers Stine Janvin Motland and Silje Aker Johnsen, whose voices float ethereally over the seven-piece chamber orchestra.