Aurora – ACD5084
The cover suggests a blinding trip of an album, the sonic equivalent of an immense op-art extravaganza. Ensemble neoN, a collective of twelve Oslo-based musicians present on their debut release performances of compositions by an array of luminaries in the experimental / avant-garde music world, chosen for the uncompromising and original nature of their work. And while the collective’s objective is to ‘initiate, produce and perform music that reflects current trends in music and other art forms’, and to do so with a spirit of youthful conventionalism, they’ve set themselves well beyond the mainstream as far as fashion goes, and have produced an album that shows a lot more restraint than the lurid dayglow Digipak would imply.
Their rendition of Kristine Tjøgersen’s ‘Travelling Light’ heralds the ensemble’s arrival in bold fashion, and sets the tone, manifesting as an energetic sonic excursion that grabs the attention and holds it in a firm grip. Twangs and pings whip into space like a squash ball pelting into zero-gravity while long, quavering drones rise and decay.
There’s a keen element of playfulness which runs through Jan Martin Smørdal’s experimental composition ‘My Favourite Thing’, which toys with the tropes of orchestral soundtrack pieces with an avant-garde bent. Clamouring strings and creeping fear chords meet with marching drums and
The choice of ‘Monocots’ by Oren Ambarchi and James Rushford as the album’s centrepoint is well-conceived: the rippling acoustic guitar hangs in a fuzzy mist while a minuscule sound, like the trickle of water, continues to run through the silent sections.
Alvin Lucier’s epic ‘Two Circles’ is an exercise in uncomfortable droning minimalism. It doesn’t do much, and nor is it required to do so. Instead, it highlights the multi-faceted nature of the ensemble’s playing skills, and taken collectively, these five pieces are well-considered and well-executed. And the liner notes by Jenny Hval make for a nice bonus, too.