AMN Reviews: loadbang – Quiver [New Focus Recordings fcr 342]

The chamber ensemble loadbang may well be unique in its instrumentation of trumpet, trombone, bass clarinet, and baritone voice. A strange combination, yes, but one capable of producing interesting timbres and textures. Accordingly, some of the most effective music on this album of eight compositions by seven composers, three of whom are members of the ensemble, involves the dramatic extensions and juxtapositions of loadbang’s instrumental and human voices.

Disquiet (2016), by loadbang’s bass clarinetist Carlos Cordeiro, is a setting of a text by Fernando Pessoa suggestive of an individual’s experience of multiple personalities; Cordeiro emphasizes the characteristic qualities of the group’s instrumentation by arranging them as separate, abutting presences within a deliberately discordant and fragmentary whole. By contrast, vocalist Jeffrey Gavett’s Proverbial (2009), a setting of three of William Blake’s Proverbs from Hell, assembles the winds into massed and dissonant long tones. Washington DC area composer Heather Stebbins’ Quiver (2014), which was inspired by a trip the composer took to Iceland, uses muted brass and extended techniques for wordless voice to craft a spluttering, choppy allusion in sound to the lurching action of geological processes.

Further along on the spectrum of extended technique, Zong Yun We’s Flower (2015/2017) is a gestural work drawing heavily on unpitched sounds; something of a polar opposite is Quinn Mason’s harmonically conventional composition Aging (2017), a somber setting of a two-line poem by Adam Lefaivre anchored by the bass clarinet. Quiver also includes trumpeter Andy Kozar’s To Keep My Loneliness Warm (2016), a two-part setting of a text by Lydia Davis built around a microtonal drone and shards of words; Chaya Czernowin’s Irrational (2019), an assemblage of pulsing patterns, unpitched timbres, and wordless vocals; and Gavett’s 2016 quis det ut, a work for just intonation based on a 15-16th century Franco-Flemish motet.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Heather Stebbins – Olney [Zeromoon]

The music on Heather Stebbins’ Olney marks something of a departure for her. A composer of electroacoustic music as well as a performer on cello, Stebbins ordinarily works within scripted or otherwise preconceived musical structures. The music on Olney, by contrast, was the product of a process of exploring modular synthesis that she describes in the liner note as more intuitive than deliberative; they are experimental in the true sense of the word in that she made them through trial and error, testing out patches to see what worked and what didn’t. The nine tracks on the album presumably are based on the survivors of the experiments, the ones deemed worth keeping.

The music is refreshingly euphonic and with enough allusion to conventional harmony and rhythm to keep it well-grounded. Even when Stebbins uses rough-edged timbres, or on louder and noisier pieces like Marie, Marie, the essential musicality of the underlying material, much of it implying a major modality, comes through. There are the abstract oscillations and swoops of sound one might expect of modular synth music, but also repeated and varied pianistic motifs, as in the two Fragments and the closing track, Gloaming.

Two months before the December release of Olney, Stebbins gave her first public performance on modular synthesizer. The piece, played under the dome of the DC World War I Memorial, was a deeply moving, quasi-choral work entirely appropriate to the setting.

Daniel Barbiero