AMN Reviews: Fonema Consort – Vistas Furtivas–The Music of Juan Campoverde [New Focus Recordings fcr246]

Vistas Furtivas, a collection of work by composer Juan Campoverde, is the third album from the Fonema Consort, a Chicago new music ensemble specializing in performing the work of Latin American composers. Campoverde, an Ecuadorian native living in nearby Evanston, Illinois, has developed a long-running collaborative relationship with the consort, having written for them since 2013. The rapport they’ve built is evident in these deft and assured performances of Campoverde’s dramatic and often delicately constructed work.

Campoverde’s compositions here are mostly driven by forceful vocal lines but for all of that, they turn on nuances of sound color alone and in combinations. The composer masterfully brings forward and updates the kind of spacious, unconventionally orchestrated chamber music pioneered by composers like George Crumb in the 1960s and 1970s. And, as could be expected by a composer mentored by Roger Reynolds, whose imagE-imAge series of solo works meticulously capture the timbral ranges of the instruments for which they were written, Campoverde pays close attention to what might be thought of as timbral harmonies and dissonances,

The album contains four works for small chamber ensemble built around the unusual but compelling combination of guitar, flute, and soprano voice, as well as two for solo guitar. Campoverde’s inspired choice of instrumental colors, which he artfully arranges against a stark canvas of silence, makes for a music of startling fusions and contrasts of timbre in an uncluttered environment.

Umbrales I and II (2013 and 2019, respectively) for two sopranos, flute, and guitar, offer two different perspectives on the same texts by Ecuadorian poet Efraín Jara Idrovo. Both iterations rely on extended vocal and instrumental techniques and scordatura to draw out the color possibilities of guitar, flute, and voice. Typical of Campoverde’s work on the album, the pieces are constructed as decentered bursts of sound. Here the main contrast is between the sustained tones of flute and voice on the one side, and the staccato attack of plucked strings on the other. The guitar’s microtonal dissonances are an essential component of the overall sound, which is dominated by the asymmetrical phrasings of sopranos Nina Dante and Nathalie Colas

Basalto (2014) strips the ensemble down to Dante and flutist Dalia Chin, here on alto flute, supplemented by prerecorded, electronically manipulated whale song. A highly expressive work, its urgency is underscored by a collision of extended vocal technique and the flutter tongue and plosive air notes from the flute.

The two works for solo guitar, Topografias (1996) and Muna II (2012), demonstrate Campoverde’s ability to elicit a wide range of color from a single instrument. Both make extensive use of microtones and tone-altering gestures up to and including turning the gears to detune the instrument. The resulting episodes of sheer sonic materiality give one the feeling of being on the inside of the intimate process of playing. Guitarist Samuel Rowe’s performances realize these difficult pieces with clarity and precision.

Los Lugares del Deseo of 2017, the four-part suite that closes the album, brings together flute, bass clarinet (played by Emily Beisel), both sopranos, guitar and percussion (Ryan Packard) in combinations ranging from solo soprano to the full sextet. In its unhurried juxtapositions of exactly delineated timbres the suite captures in microcosm the sound of the album in all its sharply etched fullness. It’s a bracingly beautiful collection of music.

AMN Reviews: Wendy Richman: vox/viola [Tundra tun008]

For vox/viola, her debut solo album featuring recent work for viola and voice, violist/vocalist Wendy Richman has chosen a most appropriate duet partner: herself. Richman, a founding member of the International Chamber Ensemble who specializes in new performance techniques, is an accomplished performer on voice as well as viola, as she amply demonstrates on this collection of engaging works engagingly performed.

The works appearing on the album were commissioned by Richman as part of an ongoing effort to build a substantial contemporary repertoire for vocalist/violist. Modern work for singing violist traces back to Giacinto Scelsi’s Manto III of 1957, an inventive composition that joined extended string performance techniques to a sung text drawn from the Delphic oracles. Composer Lou Bunk’s (b. 1972) Scelsi Frammenti (2010) self-awarely carries Scelsi’s work forward by setting a text of broken consonants and vowels over a viola part based on Bunk’s improvisations on a homemade bowed instrument made of Styrofoam and cardboard. The piece captures and refracts the radicalism of Scelsi’s vocabulary with a series of scratches, creaks, and harmonics on the one side, and sustained vowels and stuttering consonants on the other.

Also inspired by Manto III is “to be held…” by Jason Eckardt (b. 1971) a work composed in 2012 for viola, voice, and prerecorded media. The title is taken from poet Charles Olson’s manifesto Projective Verse, which articulated a notion of measuring the poetic line by the length of a breath; the sung text derives from poet Robert Creeley’s The Language. The piece comprises a slow, microtonal counterpoint made up of elongated sung, played and played-back tones that approach, meet and diverge in slowly moving sound masses that build and sustain tension before culminating in an extreme upper register fadeout. The first part of Extraordinary Rendition (2010) by David Smooke (b. 1969) also uses long-period microtonal movements, but then turns dramatically to staccato phrasing for bow and hard consonants. José-Luis Hurtado’s Palabras en alto exploits changes in dynamic range as a way to frame and throw into sharp relief the color contrasts and expressive force inherent in a mobile series of extended gestures for strings and voice.

The above works represent just some of the highlights of the album; the other compositions, by Christian Carey, Stephen Gorbos, Arlene Sierra, Everette Minchew, and Ken Ueno, exhibit a wide and stimulating range of creative approaches to having voice and viola interact through a single performer. All are certainly worth hearing.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Various Artists – Modulation Necklace: New Music from Armenia [New Focus Recordings FCR244]

During the years that Armenia was part of the Soviet Union, Armenian composers’ music was largely shaped by the models set out by the dominant Soviet musical culture. With the breakup of the USSR, Armenian composers were at liberty to open themselves up to new developments in contemporary Western art music as well as to recover aspects of their own national culture, musical and otherwise. Modulation Necklace, a collection of new and recent chamber work by four composers, showcases some of the multiple directions post-Soviet Armenian music has taken. The album was put together by violinist Movses Pogossian under the auspices of the UCLA Armenian Music Program.

Artur Avanesov (b. 1980) opens the album with Quasi Harena Maris (2016), a piano quintet that begins with subdued drifts of microtonal clusters for the strings and develops into a robustly emotional interplay for piano and strings. Avanesov also contributes the final pieces, a selection of seven piano miniatures from Feux follets (2010-2017), a seven-book collection of solo works for piano. Avanesov’s inspirations here are varied, encompassing medieval French song, Armenian folksong and painting, Baroque harpsichord music and more. The overall flavor is modal, as exemplified by Modulation Necklace, which in less than a minute and a half cycles through a series of modes pivoting on B.

Artashes Kartalyan (b. 1961) is a jazz pianist as well as a composer of symphonies, chamber works, and film soundtracks. His contribution is a three-song cycle for string quartet and mezzo-soprano, the text of which is by Armenian poet Vahan Tekeyan. The triptych, beautifully sung by Danielle Segen and expressively played by UCLA VEM Ensemble, conveys the complexities of different but related moods, yearning, loss, and acceptance most noticeably among them. Kartalyan’s son Ashot (b. 1985) is represented by a lively five-part suite for saxophone and percussion from 2015, performed by Katisse Buckingham and Dustin Donahue. The suite draws on Armenian modes and rhythms and is particularly engaging in its polyphonic middle movements, which pair the saxophone with marimba and vibes.

Ashot Zohrabyan (b. 1945) offers Novelette (2010) for piano, violin, viola and cello, a piece whose motif of a major tenth alludes to an earlier landmark work of Armenian art music. Novelette begins with quiet dissonances for the strings and moves to more dramatic territory, driven by an outspoken piano part, before reaching a denouement sotto voce. A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire, a 2017 work for violin, cello and piano by Michel Petrossian (b. 1973), is a quick-moving, shape-shifting work whose three voices are always on the verge of spinning away from each other, but without quite actually doing so.

https://newfocusrecordings.com

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Sivan Silver-Swartz – Untitled 6 [Editions Wandelweiser EWR 1920]; a•pe•ri•od•ic – for [New Focus Recordings fcr249]

Nearly seventy years have passed since John Cage composed 4’33,” his most famous—or notorious, as at the time it seemed—“silent” piece. Since then the questions 4’33” raised—regarding the limits and definition of music; the relationship between the work and the environment in which it is performed; the ontological different, or indeed indifference, between sound and silence; and above all, the degree of control or letting-go a score can or should exert over its product—have given rise to a significant lineage or tradition within new music. Two new releases of music for chamber ensembles fall within that lineage and serve to bring it forward.

The Chicago ensemble a•pe•ri•od•ic, founded by composer/pianist Nomi Epstein in 2010, fits firmly, and quite deliberately, within the lineage initiated by Cage’s work. The group, which on this recording is an octet of violin, cello, flute, bass clarinet/clarinet, bassoon/voice, French horn, piano, and voice, performs works biased toward various kinds of indeterminacy, whether of orchestration, sound material, or architecture. Silence also plays a major role in their music, whether as primary material or as a structural element.

The four compositions on for were commissioned by the group; three are by group members and the fourth is by composer Michael Pisaro.

Violinist Billie Howard’s Roll (2016) comprises a sequence of soloists playing a sustained tone ending with a freely-chosen upward or downward glissando, followed by a silence. What comes to the fore in this work is the unique timbral quality of each instrumental voice, with the lower-pitched bassoon and cello making an especially rich impression. Vocalist Kenn Kumpf contributes Triadic Expansions (2) of 2017, a piece of mutating harmonies built up from slowly ascending or descending scales of more or less arbitrary pitch content. The entrances and exits are staggered in a way that creates an out-of-synch effect that keeps the center of gravity for the entire sound mass in a constant state of motion. Combine, Juxtapose, Delayed Overlap (2013-2017) by Epstein, is a very quiet textural piece that seems to play with the ambiguous status—are they music? Are they noise? Are they just a strange crystallization of silence into sound?–of liminal audio events. Pisaro’s festhalten/loslassen (2013), in contrast to the austerity of Epstein’s piece, contains passages of almost lush bundles of sustained tones moving cloudlike across and through each other. The piece is broken into sections by long silences and is punctuated with passages for percussive pizzicato strings and a slowly ascending scale begun on piano and continued on horn.

One of the composers who studied under Pisaro is Sivan Silver-Swartz (b. 1993). Like many composers of his generation, Silver-Swartz works in eclectic forms ranging from composed new music to rock-derived song. His Untitled 6 is an hour-long work in just intonation for three or more violins, violas, cellos or other bowed instruments that can be detuned as called for by the score. On this recording, the piece is played by two violas, two cellos, and one violin. As with the compositions on for, Untitled 6 is an open-form work that leaves many performance decisions up to the players. The performers are divided into two groups, one of which is assigned a score arranged somewhat like a chessboard each of whose squares specifies a given sound gesture or a silence; this set of performers is given latitude, within some constraints, to choose the sequence of squares, and hence sounds or silences, they will play. The score for the second set of players is a linear table that specifies durations but allows for choices of dynamics and gestures. Like Kumpf’s Triadic Expansions (2) or Pisaro’s festhalten/loslassen, Untitled 6 unfolds in a set of slowly shifting harmonies, but here the harmonies are given a particular piquancy from the instruments’ tunings and from the limitation of melodic material to open strings and the first harmonic—overall, music cast in a somewhat darker shade of consonance.

https://newfocusrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/for-a-pe-ri-od-ic

https://www.wandelweiser.de/

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Osvaldo Coluccino – Interni [Kairos 0015062KAI]

Before he began writing music as a mature composer, Osvaldo Coluccino (b. 1963) was a literary artist. Although he had studied composition and classical guitar, had performed in concert halls in his teens and had begun to compose in 1979, from the end of the 1980s to the early 2000s Coluccino was mainly engaged in writing: poetry, drama and prose. Poetry in particular demands an ear for words as sonorous objects as well as a grasp of language as potentially an instrument of condensed meaning—of saying much with little. And while Coluccino may consider his work with poetry and with composition to occupy two separate and largely unconnected spheres, it does seem that both of those qualities of poetry—sonority and economy of expression—carry over into his compositions.

This is especially true of Interni, a 2017-2018 series of five solo compositions for various flutes and one for flute and electronics. As he did with earlier works, like the Emblema series for small chamber ensembles and Atto, which was composed for objects rather than musical instruments, Coluccino with Interni makes music focused on the quiet details of sound production and color.

From the opening notes of Primo interno for C flute, Coluccino’s sensibility reveals itself. In as pure an example of klangfarbenmelodie as one could want, Coluccino calls for each of the first four notes—all of them a G—to be played with different extended techniques, yielding a melody consisting of a sequence of changing timbres over constant pitch. As with the first Interno, so with the rest: the entire series stands as a kind of encyclopedia of extended flute techniques. These include key clicks, whistles, palate snaps, tongue rams, air pizzicato, multiphonics, harmonics and more. Coluccino draws attention to the specific characteristics of his sonorities by separating them with palpable rests; these islands of sound then function as brief meditations on sound in its qualitative dimension.

Interno sesto for contrabass flute, bass flute and electronics maintains the consistency of the preceding Interni by couching complex timbres at relatively low dynamics. The electronics serve as a kind of background curtain of undefined noise and a screen on which the flutes can project their sounds.

This music requires a technically advanced performer with an ear attuned to nuance; Coluccino is thus fortunate to have these fine works realized by the Italian flute virtuoso Roberto Fabbriciani.

http://www.kairos-music.com

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: exclusiveOr / Architeuthis Walks on Land / International Contemporary Ensemble – “modules” [Carrier 044]

Jeff Snyder and Sam Pluta have been working together since 2006 as the duo exclusiveOR.  With Snyder performing on analog synthesizer and Pluta on live electronics. Their work explores the intersection of composition and improvisation with live electronics. For “modules” the duo is joined by some of today’s leading creative musicians: Architeuthis Walks on Land (AWOL) which is Amy Cimini – viola and Katherine Young – bassoon, and members of ICEPeter Evans, Nate Wooley – trumpets, Ryan Muncy – saxophones, Weston Olencki – trombone and Ross Karre – percussion.

“modules” was commissioned in 2014 by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) as part of their ICELab Series. It is a concert length work that utilizes both improvisation and strictly notated material. The piece covers a lot of ground as it flows through its fifteen modules in which seemingly opposing materials (pitch, sound and noise) and methodologies (composition, improvisation and live electronics) seamlessly interact with one another to create a unified whole. 

 

The fifteen “modules” are comprised of five composed by Pluta, five by Snyder and five improvisations from various small groupings of the ensemble. Each of these tracks or modules has its own distinct character, color and instrumentation. Pluta’s modules tend to be more aggressive and noisier, while Snyder’s are often more harmonically focused. The improvised sections are all sonically oriented and very original. Despite the contrasts within each module they really seem connected and many segments flow into one another in a conversational like manner.

Here is an earlier performance with brass quartet, analog synthesizer, live electronics, and percussion.  It’s interesting to hear both of these versions because it makes clear the significant contributions that improvisers can bring to pieces like “modules”.

For those that need some kind of categorization I would put “modules” under the banner of “creative music”; in that the sound worlds that the composers and improvisers create, freely explore many different contemporary and historical musical ideas without any allegiance or deference to any of the “school’s” associated with these ideas. This is a trend that has been growing for quite some time and I think the composers and improvisers on “modules” are among the best of a new generation of musicians continuing this exploration.

Highly recommended!

Chris De Chiara

 

 

AMN Reviews: Daniel Lippel – Mirrored Spaces [New Focus Recordings FCR239]

From guitarist Daniel Lippel comes a two-CD set containing a generous collection of recent work for solo guitarist. On the recording Lippel, a virtuoso specializing in the contemporary repertoire for guitar, plays both nylon string classical guitar and electric guitar, conventionally and with extended technique, with and without electronic augmentation. But no matter the instrumental set-up or the musical setting, Lippel’s performances are characteristically deft and assured.

A dominant theme on Mirrored Spaces is the use of alternative tunings and microtonality. The title work, a six-part suite co-composed by Lippel and Orianna Webb in 2006-2008, draws on quarter-tone tuning. The quarter-tone discrepancies create a wobbly choric effect, giving parts of the suite a strangely unstable feeling. Other parts sound like more conventional, albeit beautifully adventurous, classical guitar playing.

Ryan Streber’s Descent for scordatura electric guitar and two amplifiers was also a collaborative composition. The piece, which detunes the guitar’s four lowest strings from standard fourths tuning to the cello’s fifths tuning, has as its central trope the subtle incongruity of having an electric guitar played with classical technique. The piece slowly descends from the instrument’s upper to lower registers and in the process dresses it up in an increasingly overdriven, distorted sound.

Other pieces exploring alternative tunings include Christopher Bailey’s Arc of Infinity, a multi-faceted work for guitar and three layers of electronic sounds that uses overtones in standard tuning to create harmonies in Just Intonation, and Lippel’s own Scaffold, which incorporates three guitars using three different tunings.

Extended technique is more-or-less taken for granted on many of these performances, but they come to the fore particularly on From Scratch, a 2017 electroacoustic work by Sergio Kafejian, that envelops its skittering runs and fragmentary phrases in aggressive, percussive gestures, string scraping, snap pizzicato, and plucking behind the bridge.

No brief review can do justice to the rich variety of music in this collection. One can only say: Listen.

http://www.newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue/daniel-lippel-mirrored-spaces/

Daniel Barbiero