AMN Reviews: Eric Wubbels – being-time [Carrier037]

Composer Eric Wubbels’ being-time (2013-2017), a work for string quartet and quadrophonic electronic sound, is an essay in the effects of tuning on the experience of sound and through it, time. The piece was commissioned by Chamber Music of America for the Mivos Quartet, who premiered it in November 2015 at the Roulette in Brooklyn and who perform it on this recording.

Wubbels, who is a pianist and co-director of the new music ensemble Wet Ink as well as a composer, conceived the piece as a kind of investigation into how the resonances of detuned string instruments interact with the environment and the listener’s perceptions of pitch and rhythm and ultimately, time. Although Wubbels’ preparation for writing the piece included research into the physics and psychology of sound, being-time seems intended to be more the product of imaginative speculation rather than a proper scientific experiment.

The piece calls for a scordatura in which the instruments are tuned down to low pitches whose microtonal relationships create dissonances of varying degrees as well as consonances. The fluid movement back and forth between and within dissonances and consonances gives the piece its distinctive sound.

Although music like this probably has to be heard live to get the full effect, the recording does give a sense of its sound and structure. Overall, being-time creates the impression of an archipelago of microtonal chords separated by silences and electronic events. Most of the movement is carried by the incremental drift of the chords’ inner voices, which subtly changes their color. Although the piece features a range of dynamics, this seems a secondary factor relative to the ongoing recalibration of the harmonies. As with many long-duration works that use silence as a structural element, being-time delays and expands the listener’s sense of anticipation to reveal time for one of the things it is—an unmarked ground for music, a figuratively blank canvas on which sounds are arranged in dynamic relationships.

http://carrierrecords.com

Daniel Barbiero

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AMN Reviews: Scott Worthington – Orbit [IIKKI 005]

These three pieces by Los Angeles-based double bassist/composer Scott Worthington represent one half of a collaboration with Italian photographer Renato D’Agustin. The other half is D’Agustin’s book of photographs. While each half complements the other, each also provides a gratifying experience by itself and on its own terms, as Worthington’s contribution ably demonstrates.

Worthington’s three compositions can be listened to separately, but together they create a consistency of mood and dynamic that makes them best heard as an interlocking triptych. The first of the three pieces, A Time That Is also a Place (2015) for flute and electronics, was commissioned by flutist Rachel Beetz, who performs it here. Structured as a series of long tones on flute alternating with silences, the piece is a meditation on breath as a marker of time. Both the tones and silences are given the duration of a breath—a necessarily inexact but very human metronome. The tonal richness of Beetz’s interpretation is supplemented by an electronic playback system, which gives unintrusive support to the flute by supplying ghostly echoes and a quite surf of static. There follows a brief electronic interlude that builds and thickens some of the timbres set out in the first piece, and serves as a hinge joining it to the concluding piece. This latter is the dreamily paced A Flame that Could Go Out (2016) for two five-string electric basses, a sequence of slow and seemingly randomly-ordered chord tones that imply a hesitant movement between tonic and dominant. As with Worthington’s other two pieces, it weaves minimal raw material into something hauntingly beautiful.

http://iikki.bandcamp.com

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Gregory Oakes – Aesthetic Apparatus [New Focus FCR196]

Some of the most challenging music of recent years—challenging to play as well as to listen to—has been written by German composer Helmut Lachenmann (b. 1935). The conceptual core of much of his music has consisted in laying bare the conditions underlying and assumed by music production—essentially, the physical prerequisites of performance practice, as well as the determinations, both accepted and rejected, of genre. For Lachenmann, musical sound is a complex of factors reaching back within the tradition or genre in relation to which it is created, and reaching forward into the moment—the physical situation of specific possibilities and the choices they elicit—in which it is actually produced. Thus the title of his book of writings, which translates as “music as existential experience.” This standpoint puts extraordinary demands on the performer, who must be familiar with all the aspects and resources his or her instrument has to offer. With Aesthetic Apparatus, a set of three Lachenmann compositions, clarinetist Gregory Oakes takes up the challenge.

Oakes, who is principal clarinetist for the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra as well as an assistant professor of clarinet at Iowa State University in Ames, is particularly interested in contemporary art music. Much of his repertoire is the product of collaboration with currently active composers, and he seems especially drawn to new music that assumes a broad notion of what kinds of sounds are permissible in the concert hall. Thus Lachenmann’s music is a natural fit for him.

The affinity between Oakes and Lachenmann’s sound world is immediately apparent with the first piece, 1970’s Dal Niente (Interieur III) for solo clarinet. The composition calls for a number of extended techniques for the instrument, many of which involve the sounds of breath on the borderline of silence. In his liner note, Oakes points out that the title of the piece derives from a musical marking that translates as “from nothing;” his performance accordingly pivots on the flux of sounds proceeding from and returning to nothing. The Trio Fluido for clarinet, viola and percussion of 1966, in which Oakes is joined by violist Jonathan Sturm and Matthew Coley on marimba, also centers on sound but in a more assertive way. The piece begins with a fragmented Modernist counterpoint that, through a kind of compositional auto-deconstruction, gradually dissolves into abstract sound. What’s striking about the piece is its underlying consistency; the division of the three voices focuses attention on their individual timbral characteristics, whether played conventionally or with the extended techniques that come to dominate the final third or so of the performance. The interplay among the three performers manages to be both refined and (subtly) dramatic. The final performance, the nearly 32 minute long Allegro Sostenuto (1986/1988), is a trio for clarinet, cello (George Work) and piano (Mei-Hsuan Huang) that Lachenmann has described as mediating between resonance and movement. The piece begins as an archipelago of rapid bursts, truncated phrases and points of sound that accumulate and build length and mass over time. The resonance inheres in the individuation of each of the three instruments, which is helped by the three players’ precise articulation. Here as on all three pieces, Oakes plays with a fine-grained, well-modulated and vivid sound.

 

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Pascale Criton & Ensemble Dedalus – Infra [Potlatch P317]

On Infra, the second album of work by French composer Pascale Criton (b. 1954), microtonal tunings and the techniques congenial to them are employed to create sound environments of incremental variations on pitch and color. The pieces collected on Infra and performed by the Ensemble Dedalus are for solo cello (Deborah Walker), cello and violin (Walker and Silvia Tarozzi), and a chamber quintet of cello, violin, guitar, flute and trombone (Walker, Tarozzi, Didier Aschour, Amélie Berson and Thierry Madiot, respectively). The sound gets its particular flavor from the tunings used; for the string instruments, Criton specifies a tuning of 1/16 tone, an interval chosen for its near imperceptibility. The focus of the compositions thus falls on eliciting shadings of sound color and the microdissonances and other aural effects produced by closely ordered pitches; there’s a certain understated drama in the discrepancies between slightly differentiated tones whose defining gaps widen and narrow within a restricted audio space. The performances are technically accomplished and highly effective in conveying the subtle movement and finely calibrated hues of Criton’s soundworld.

http://www.potlatch.fr

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Scott Wollschleger – Soft Aberration [New Focus FCR 182]

Composer Scott Wollschleger (b. 1980) seems most interested in creating musical effects through a deliberately-chosen economy of means. He writes largely for chamber ensembles or soloist performers, and in fact Soft Aberration, the first album dedicated to his work alone, contains compositions for solo, duo, trio and quartet.

A couple of the titles of these works—Soft Aberration, Brontal Symmetry—are likely to call up associations with New York School composers, especially Morton Feldman. Wollschleger has acknowledged the New York School and Feldman as influences and exemplary figures; like Feldman, Wollschleger favors constructing pieces out of repeating fragments of pitches, timbres, or rhythmic figures. His method for building a full-scale work out of these basic elements generally consists of creating chains of semi-independent events or moments defined by a relatively simple pattern of pitch, color, or rhythmic relationships. One moment doesn’t necessarily implicate the next; Wollschleger’s stated aim in making continuous works from discontinuous, repeating events is to encourage the listener to reflect on the sounds’ different facets–as if they had been presented from different angles.

The long piece that opens the album, 2015’s Brontal Symmetry, was commissioned by the unorthodox piano trio Longleash, who perform it here; the work is an astutely-chosen opener, as it epitomizes some of the key aspects of Wollschleger’s aesthetic. The piece lays out its fundamental musical material from the start, as it begins with a staccato, deliberately square-rhythmed three-note motif on the piano. The motif is picked up on the strings, which reproduce its phrase profile more than its exact melody; the playing then dissolves into a simulacrum of chaos—of acoustic white noise carried on the frenzied bowing of the strings. This contrast of moods sets a larger, symmetrical pattern in which the piece alternates passages defined by the simple motif with chaotic or quiet passages.

The white noise of the strings’ unpitched moments in Brontal Symmetry is developed further in —and alluded to in the title of–White Wall (2013) for string quartet.  Played with the requisite subtlety by the Mivos Quartet, White Wall’s softly bowed, muted strings and whistling harmonics—broken on occasion by plucked or bowed stabs–largely exist in an audio environment notable for its low dynamics and dispersed texture. White Wall is a piece of extraordinary sonic delicacy that serves as the understated focus of the album.

The album’s other compositions—the title track, for piano and viola; America, for solo cello; and Bring Something Incomprehensible into This World, for the unusual duo of soprano and trumpet—give more evidence of a composer who can extract the expressive maximum from minimal musical means.

http://newfocusrecordings.com

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Joshua Rubin – There Never Is No Light [Tundra TUN 002 CD]

For over fifty years now composers and performers have used electronics to enhance, augment, and otherwise expand the range of sounds that can be produced by a conventional acoustic instrument. There Never Is No Light, the debut recording solo by clarinetist Joshua Rubin, works within this by now well-established tradition by situating the acoustic instrument fruitfully at many points along a continuum running from music to noise.

Rubin, who plays bass clarinet as well as clarinet, is a founder and artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble. His skills as a curator are well-displayed in the selection of the six works on this CD, which range over thirty years and two generations of electroacoustic composers.

The disc opens auspiciously with The Soul Is the Arena (2010) for amplified bass clarinet and electronics, a work that Rubin commissioned from composer Mario Diaz de Leon and premiered at Chicago’s Velvet Lounge in November, 2010. For this sometimes boisterous duet Rubin plays the bass clarinet with a harshly distorted sound as he chases electronic shadows in a vigorous game of pursuit. Synchronisms No. 12 (2006) is another duet for reed and electronics by another Mario—Mario Davidovsky. In contrast to the manic energy of The Soul Is the Arena, Synchronisms is a more restrained, reflective soliloquy for unaltered clarinet with discreet electronic interventions. Rubin’s playing is deeply engaging, using carefully modulated dynamics and drawing on the full compass of the instrument. The earliest composition in the collection, Olly Wilson’s Echoes (1974), is a duet for tape and clarinet; in addition to its own inherent interest as an effective pairing of acoustic and prerecorded sounds, it provides historical context for the newer electroacoustic works on the CD.

Suzanne Farrin’s Ma Dentro Dove (2010) for clarinet and resonating body is one piece within the larger cycle Corpo di Terra, a collection of compositions inspired by the sonnets of the fourteenth-century Italian poet Francesco Petrarca. The title, taken from a line in Canzoniere 9, translates as “but within, where”—an apt name for a work that takes the sound of the mic’d clarinet and feeds it into the resonant interior of a piano. The rhetoric of the piece is built on a virtuoso technical vocabulary turned to expressive ends; Rubin’s performance is as affecting as it is arresting. Mexican composer Ignacio Baca Lobera’s exhilarating Salto Cuantico (2011) also calls for a virtuoso performance for a prepared clarinet that confronts electronic sounds on their own turf, as it were.

Rubin is co-composer of 2012’s Toast, a kind of aleatory work in which a synthesizer unpredictably accompanies Rubin and co-composer/pianist Cory Smythe through the rises and defiles of sonically broken ground.

http://tundrasounds.org

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Ensemble Resonanz, Elliott Sharp, Gareth Davis – “Oceanus Procellarum” [Cavity Search CSR101]

OP_CoverElliott Sharp has been a key figure in New York City’s experimental music scene for more than thirty years. He is a musician of incredible range with significant works spanning free improvisation, blues, jazz, electronic, noise, chamber, and orchestral music. Sharp’s work has been inspired by his deep interest in science and mathematics. He has developed a unique musical syntax that is informed by fractal geometry, chaos theory, algorithmic and biological processes. On “Oceanus Procellarum” Elliott Sharp teams up with Gareth Davis and the Ensemble Resonanz.

The Ensemble Resonanz is an unusual chamber orchestra based in Saint Pauli, Hamburg. The ensemble is democratically organized and makes its home at the resonanzraum – a concert space built inside of an old bunker. The resonanzraum is both unique and informal with more of a club atmosphere than that of the traditional concert hall.  The Ensemble Resonanz regularly performs monthly programs at the resonanzraum that aim to bridge the musical past with the present.

Gareth Davis is a clarinetist that primarily performs on the bass and contrabass clarinets. Like Sharp, he is a musician of incredible range and interests. Davis’s work spans the worlds of contemporary classical, to free improvisation, to rock, noise and electronica. Davis has a wonderful sound and incredible technical command of the bass clarinet. He has premiered works by Jonathan Harvey, Bernhard Lang, Peter Ablinger and Toshio Hosokawa. Davis has performed and collaborated with JACK Quartet, monster cellist Frances Marie Uitti, Merzbow and Christian Marclay.

Elliott Sharp’s “Oceanus Procellarum” is a work filled with propulsive development that is rich in rhythmic and timbral complexity. “Oceanus Procellarum” was recorded live at its UK premiere during the 2016 Huddersfield Festival. This performance was beautifully recorded and has a sound that is much larger than the chamber ensemble of twelve strings plus the two soloists. “Oceanus Procellarum” which translates to Ocean of Storms is a thirty-eight minute through composed piece in five sections with each section consisting of multiple episodes.  Sharp constructed the piece to be a kind of intersection between two moving fronts somewhat like a concerto in that it pits the two soloists – Elliott Sharp on electro-acoustic guitar and Gareth Davis on bass clarinet against the strings of the Ensemble Resonanz. The piece creates a sound world where textures build, form and transform in a kind of attraction and repulsion as the two moving fronts move into and out from each other. The composition has a raw intensity with many dramatic shifts where events can suddenly move from very intense large sound bodies to moments of reflection only to suddenly be challenged by the arrival of another moving front.

Since improvisation is at the heart of Elliott Sharp’s work it is likely that some elements of improvisation or performer choice are part of this score and this enables the soloists – Sharp and Davis, who are outstanding, to create an atmosphere of spontaneity throughout the performance. The strings are called upon to use many extended techniques including “alternate bows” constructed from various metal springs and wooden sticks. Despite what must be a challenging score to perform, the Ensemble Resonanz really brings this music to life. The timbral range produced by the entire ensemble and soloists is stunning. They effortlessly move from chaotic clouds to throbbing masses of growing clusters to ethereal almost ambient reflections to sparkling and brassy counterpoint to intense primal rhythmic unisons and eventually they end in a bed of very soft bowed white noise.

“Oceanus Procellarum” is an exciting listen. Old hands will really enjoy it and newcomers will find it a great place to start as it is absolutely one of Elliott Sharp’s best chamber works.  Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara