One way of making existing material new is by rearranging it. On Floating Layer Cake Norwegian percussionist/composer Ingar Zach takes two of his compositions and reimagines them through creative reorchestration. The Lost Ones, originally written for Zach’s percussion and the text and voice of poet Caroline Bergvall, is here rearranged for an ensemble comprising the Canadian string quartet Quatuor Bozzini and guitarist Kim Myhr on acoustic 12-string and zither, as well as Zach and Bergvall. Rearranged this way, The Lost Ones is a work of timbral ambiguity, where it’s initially difficult to disentangle the instruments from the collective sound. The individual voices become more sharply defined as the piece continues: Bergvall’s voice enters for a brief passage; Myhr’s guitar and zither ornament the enveloping drone, as does Zach’s percussion; the quartet gradually adopts bowing patterns that divide the undifferentiated mass of sound into a regular rhythm, further emphasized by Myhr’s forceful strumming. Listening is like watching objects slowly emerge out of fog: first as a vague mass, then as discernible outlines, and finally as three-dimensional bodies projecting out against a grey curtain. The second and final piece on the album, Let the Snare Speak, was first written for percussion ensemble but here is performed by Zach alone. The work, for three snare drums, electronics and vibrating speakers, is a series of hums and flutters produced by a series of sine tones projected through the speakers and altered by their interaction with the drumheads.
Founded by the Bozzini sisters, cellist Isabelle and violinist Stéphanie, the eponymous Montréal-based string quartet has been a significant presence in Canadian new music since the early 2000s. The Bozzini’s two CDs, one each of works by US composer Phill Niblock and Québec’s Simon Martin, are the latest additions to a substantial catalogue of recordings of sound- and concept-based contemporary music.
Baobab presents two large-scale works by Niblock (b. 1933). Both pieces—Baobab, originally composed in 2011, and Disseminate, composed in 1998—were first written for orchestra and appear here as revised in 2017. By means of multi-track layering, they’ve been rearranged for string quartet multiplied times five. Both pieces are quintessential Niblock—thickly textured swarms of drones made up of microtones and moving timbres. Sustaining the requisite long tones undoubtedly is a challenge to the players’ physical stamina, but the sounds never falter.
For Musique d’art, a five-movement, hour-long work for string quintet by Martin (b. 1981), the quartet—which in addition to the Bozzini sisters includes violinists Alissa Cheung and Clemens Merkel—is joined by double bassist Pierre-Alexandre Maranda. Like Niblock’s two pieces, Musique d’art is centered on the development elongated chords, but with more variability of density, dynamics and rates of harmonic change. Pitches drop out and fade in; discordant tones come and go as the intervals between notes widen and narrow; bow articulations shift to introduce changes to timbre and to add complexity to the stacked overtones. Not all of this is about pitch relationships: while at times the quintet sounds like a robust, tuned and detuned tamboura, at other times their collective sound dissolves into harsh, grey noise and rough, unpitched textures. Martin set out to create a fecund dialectic of sound and music with the piece, and in that he has succeeded.
Few notions encapsulate the human condition more tidily than the notion of passage: of passing to different places or stages of life, or simply passing through in any of its literal or figurative meanings. On pressing clouds passing crowds guitarist/composer Kim Myhr has collaborated with poet Carolyn Bergvall on a suite of pieces touching on passage and transience in their many manifestations.
The music, which was written before Bergvall’s words were composed, is performed by Myhr on twelve-string guitar and Ingar Zach on percussion, along with the string quartet Quatuor Bozzini, from Montreal. In a structural allusion to passage the six parts of the suite segue naturally from one to the other, and feature repeated figures, ringing chords and arpeggios over insistent rhythms; for the Bozzini there are restrained drones and elongated, unstable chords with subtly rising and falling inner voices. Myhr’s penchant for repetition underscores the spirit of Bergvall’s text: repetition, as the recurrence of something that by itself doesn’t last, is simply the other side of flux. By the same token, Bergvall’s text is well-suited to the music: through images, anecdotes and aphorisms, she crafts an anti-narrative of what it’s like to experience the passing nature of things—in her words, to “move into unknown terrain where the ground is imperceptibly changing.”
The title of this three-part work by Hungarian-Canadian composer Gyula Csapó–French and Persian for “Already? Where to?”—seems an appropriate epigraph for someone whose itinerary brought him from Budapest to Saskatchewan, via Paris and Buffalo and points in between.
Csapó completed studies in composition and music theory at the Béla Bartók Conservatory and the List Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest before going to Paris to study computer music and acoustics at IRCAM. In the 1980s, he came to the US to study with Morton Feldman, a composer whose work proved to be a significant influence. In the early 1990s, he moved to Canada and, after a period teaching composition at Princeton University, settled in Saskatoon, where he currently teaches composition and music theory.
In its scale and general profile, Déjà? Kojâ? takes some of Feldman’s approaches to arranging sounds and develops them in a way that is Csapó’s own. The work, composed between 2011 and 2016, is structured as a triptych of three roughly equal lengths. The sounds move slowly, as if there were carried along on tectonic plates approaching, receding, and grinding together in a sometimes overt, sometimes more submerged, dissonant fluctuation. Texture here is architecture, as Csapó layers sound masses into striated blocks whose fault lines divide the higher and lower registers. The differentiation of voices rather than classic counterpoint really does seem to be the structural key to this sometimes darkly opaque work; throughout it, the Quatuor Bozzini maintain a clarity of individual articulation, even in the densest passages.