AMN Reviews: Bearthoven / Scott Wollschleger – American Dream [Cantaloupe CA21145]

Whether by design or by accident, the three Scott Wollschleger compositions performed on the trio Bearthoven’s American Dream album capture, in their spare beauty, the pervasive sense of uncertainty and disorientation so characteristic of recent years. This may not simply be something imagined: Wollschleger himself sees them as expressing an often contradictory set of emotions—“doom, optimism, hopelessness, and the sublime.” Perhaps as a result, the collection is pervaded by an elegiac, haunted atmosphere, an impression conveyed by the fragmentary and understated nature of much of the music and made explicit by the title of the final work in the trilogy: We See Things That Are Not There.

Gas Station Canon Song, the opening piece for solo piano, captures this mood in a concise manner. It’s a short work made up of brief phrases, dissonances that sound like stumbled-upon “mistakes,” and an artfully halting pace. Hearing Karl Larson’s performance is like listening to someone reaching for a memory that won’t quite crystallize. The five-movement American Dream for the full Bearthoven trio of Larson, double bassist Pat Swoboda and percussionist Matt Evans continues and expands on the atmosphere established by Gas Station Canon Song. American Dream is very much an ensemble piece of collective sound rather than a work with sharply defined figure and ground relationships; it frequently features instrumental combinations of novel colors, such as when piano and percussion fuse to mimic the sound of a toy piano. The final track, We See Things Are Not There for piano, vibraphone, and crotale, is in mood a fitting complement to the opening track and serves to bookend the collection nicely.

https://cantaloupemusic.com/

https://scottwollschleger.com/

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