The music on Bernhard Lang’s Flute & Bass, and indeed much of the Viennese composer’s mature music, was inspired by the paradox of repetition. The repeated object is somehow both the same and different all at once, in a way that, roughly, a copy is the same and yet different from its original. Lang’s direct inspiration came from his reading of Gilles Deleuze’s book Repetition and Difference, but in one form or another the paradox can be traced as far back as Heraclitus or, more recently and provocatively, to Borges’ story of Menand’s rewriting of Don Quixote. Be that as it may, Flute & Bass is a set of three works whose conceptual depth and performative challenges never overshadow their compelling musicality.
Lang engages the paradox of repetition through the use of reiterated musical elements. This is apparent from the very first composition on the album, Monadologie XVI “solfeggio” (2011) for solo flute, performed by Manuel Zurria. Lang takes repeating, brief phrases of two, three, four, and seven notes and arranges them in a sequence the linearity of which gives the performance the feel of a minimalist pulse piece come unraveled. By using different phrases and building an increasing sense of urgency into the piece’s narrative arc, Lang introduces an element of variation into and through repetition. (In another working of repetition, Lang takes the piece’s melodic content from a flute etude by Prussian emperor Frederick the Great, himself an accomplished performer on the instrument.)
Differenz/Wiederholung 25:…more loops for U. (2014) for solo double bass is more fragmentary in sound than Monadologie XVI, but as the title indicates, is just as reliant on repeated figures. Here these largely take the form of gestures drawn from the instrument’s repertoire of extended techniques: overtones and multiphonics, bow scratches and grinding, drumming on the bass’s body, left-hand pizzicato, and many more. The piece was inspired by electronic dance music and DJing and hence has a loose-jointed but pronounced rhythmic drive. The technical demands on the bassist are extreme; bassist Dario Calderone’s deliberately rough-edged performance is breathtaking.
The final piece is Difference/Wiederholung 22 “Winterlicht” (2010), a 25-minute-long duet in which Calderone is joined by Zurria on bass flute. Here too repetitive figures come into play, but the focus is largely on timbral continuity and contrast. As in DW22 the double bass part here makes liberal use of extended technique—as does the bass flute part, although less dramatically—to support and subvert the more melodic flute lines. The soundworld of the piece is unusually rich thanks to the remarkable interplay of the two voices.
On a recording like Bass & Flute much hinges on the ability of the performers not only to meet the extreme technical demands of the music, but to provide genuinely musical performances. It comes as no surprise that Zurria and Calderone both certainly do. Rome-based Zurria is a master of contemporary music for his instrument, and Calderone, an Italian-born musician currently living in Amsterdam, is one of the finest double bassists in Europe and indeed anywhere.