Posts Tagged ‘contemporary classical’

Les Albums Claus – 30th April 2018

Stuart Bateman

Ben Bertrand comes armed with a bass clarinet and a bunch of effects. Recorded live at les ateliers claus in October 2017, NGC 1999 doesn’t sound in any way live, and the five pieces feel very structured and are sequenced in a most cohesive fashion. While the number of singer-songwriters using loop pedals to fill out their sound seemed to explode about 12 years ago, to the point that it’s long been tedious and predictable to witness someone with an acoustic guitar and a little synth layering up the vocals and building simple three-chord strums up to epic choral dimensions.

Bertrand’s application of the equipment is both more subtle and more innovative. The repetitive motifs ripple and bounce against one another, and while there is layering, Bertrand’s restraint is noteworthy, keeping things sparse, low-key, minimal.

Taking its title from a dust-filled bright nebula in the constellation of Orion, 1,500 light years from earth – and distinctive for a black patch at its centre which is believed to be completely empty – the compositions are thematically-linked and contrive to convey a sense of floating in space.

Things to threaten to spiral out of control with shrill, electronic whistles sending the end of ‘V380 Orionis’ (a multiple star system at the centre of Orion and the primary source of light for NGC 1999) skyward. But thereafter it’s very much sparser and quieter. ‘Malkauns on Kitt Peak’ brings a change of tone for the album’s mid-point: a hushed, brooding expanse of elongated pulses which echo out into the darkness, it’s spacious yet strangely airless. For the first time on the album, the clarinet sounds like a clarinet as it meanders through a fizz of skittering treble that falls like shooting stars.

The pieces flow together and transition effortlessly as Bertrand bounces through the abyss with an assurance and tranquillity that’s soothing, but nevertheless strange.

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Ben Bertrand – NGC 1999

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Music Information Centre Lithuania – MICLCD097

Christopher Nosnibor

Horizons has been a long time in the making, and the artist has described it as a ‘Sisyphean process’, which, at the end, ‘only strengthened the joy of accomplishment’. The five compositions span from between 2006 and 2015. Martinaitytė’s biography is long and detailed, and covers the complex and challenging circumstances surrounding the composer’s journey to its completion. But an abridged rendering would focus on the fact that the pieces here are from what she terms the decade which represents the ‘blue’ period of her career, and that the album as a whole represents her explorations of ‘the dichotomies between proximity and distance, nearing and departing’.

It’s perhaps worth quoting from the accompanying notes at length, in order to demonstrate the full expanse of the album’s scope: ‘With this album and the individual works on it the author tells an absorbing emotional narrative. She begins with a larger picture – a multi-layered, timbrally rich sonic expression of the faraway landscapes (Horizons, 2013; The Blue of Distance, 2010); she then moves on towards her subjective relationship with the untouchable distance (Thousand Doors to the World, 2009; Completely Embraced by the Beauty of Emptiness, 2006); finally, she reaches the state of inner calm (Serenity Diptychs, 2015). Acoustically speaking, the concept of nearing is presented through instrumentation – she begins with larger orchestral and choral works, and finishes with a refined, chamber sound.’

The title track sets the album’s tone: ‘Horizons’ begins expansively, a vast, expansive sonic vista stretching for some seventeen and a half minutes and leading the listener through moments of grace and tranquillity punctuated by moments of drama and tension. The choral swell of ‘The Blue of Distance’ resonates deep and strikes a spiritual chord, albeit in a vague, abstract sense, touching as it does the corners of the subconscious. Bursts of vaporous ambience spar against distant echoes of notes. The drama surges and sweeps on ‘Thousand Doors’, a tempest of brass and strings mounting and enveloping the listener. While Martinaitytė is a master of the subtle and the delicate, her compositions equally demonstrate her capacity for the bold, with passages of grandeur and turbulence.

Contemporary classical seems to have been relegated to big-budget film scores, but Žibuoklė Martinaitytė is unquestionably an exponent of 21st century classical music. More to the point, Horizons is a powerful orchestral work which transcends genre boundaries and interacts on many levels.

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Žibuoklė Martinaitytė – Horizons

Christopher Nosnibor

Fractal, stripped back strumming and spacious strings define the compositions Skeletikon. Having misplaced the press release, I know next to nothing about Fjellstrom’s purpose or intention with Skeletikon.

‘Born out of shattered dreams and an obscured vision of the future, Skeletikon is a delirious yet lucid exploration of the farthest and most conflicted reaches of the heart, teeming with confusion, passion, and ghostly shadows. Being no conventional composer in any way, Marcus stumbles further down his musical domain of detuned orchestral (re-)arrangements and pain-inducing synth passages, arriving at a most unique and personal result.’ So says the blurb accompanying the album.

Across the album’s ten compositions, Fjellstrom explores all of the essential elements, namely texture and tone, atmospherics and dynamics.

‘Aunchron’ is a light, lilting folksy composition that in some respects invites comparisons to early 90s Swans in the way it builds. But it’s a magnificently multifaceted piece, which shifts and glides supply though a series of transitions which head in various directions over the course of its six-minute duration, by turns cascading gently over rippling chimes and rolling through delicate thunder.

‘Skeleton Dance 2’ is dark, tense and atmospheric in a brooding, difficult way: it gives way to the lilting yet urgent acoustic strumming of ‘Modulus’. Dark clouds rumble as they gather under tremulous strings on ‘Arboretum’: less a sonic representation of the breeze through the leaves on the trees in Spring, and more of a haunted forest with growling, marauding hunters lurking in the undergrowth.

Skeletikon is one of those albums which never stays still, which slowly trickles around a succession of haunting sonic spaces and does so incredibly deftly. As such, its impact is subtle to the point of being barely perceptible for the most part. Skeletikon is sparse, and reaches in by stealth.

The album closer ‘Boy With Wound’ is a haunting, creepy composition, and while it employs myriad classic tropes common to music which is designed to instil certain sense of dread, of trepidation, it’s also a musical journey through a series of tense moods and nerve-jangling tension.

Skeletikon is not an album to enjoy, per se, but one to experience at leisure and to slowly absorb. It’s an album with the capacity to affect the listener, and to effect the psychological axis upon which they ordinarily exist.

Marcus Fjellstrom – Skelektion

Unsounds – 57u – 10th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Unsounds have a history of releasing magnificently-packaged albums, and Subvoice by Yannis Kyriakides is up there with the best of them. The double CD is housed in a chunky hardcover book binding, which contains an actual book, some forty pages in span.

My introduction to the concept of the subvoice came via William Burroughs, who, around the time he was exploring the myriad potentials of the cut-up technique, made innumerable audio experiments. While most of these involved tape splicing, dropping in and cutting out, some investigated the subvoice in a most literal fashion. Some of these barely audible and even more barely listenable recordings appeared on Nothing Here Now But the Recrdings on Industrial records, with the liner notes describing ‘Throat Microphone Experiment’ – if memory serves – as a not entirely successful attempt to capture subvocal speech.

The definition of ‘subvocal’ is ‘relating to or denoting an unarticulated level of speech comparable to thought’. Kyriakides describes the works in the collection as ‘an investigation into ideas of voice and language [which] range from works in which text is directly encoded into music… to ones in which the voice is examined, dissected and pulled apart’. He explains that ‘in both approaches the underlying idea is to explore what happens when material has a clear semantic form, whether communicated in text or speech, is translated into musical structure’.

While thematically and theoretically linked, the nine pieces – which have a combined running time of almost two and a half hours – are from quite distinct and separate collaborative projects Kyriakides was involved in between 2010 and 2015.

The first piece on disc one, ‘Words and Song Without Words’ is the shortest work, being a couple of seconds under ten minutes, but appropriately introduces the kind of sonic palette Kyriakides and his collaborators – in this instance, Francesco Dillon, who contributes cello – work from. ‘Paramyth’ is eerie, disconsolate, the cracked ramblings splayed in all directions over tense piano and uncomfortable strings, but ultimately peters out into something softer. Skittering strings scurry busily in brief and disjointed flurries, hectically flying here and there, on ‘Toponymy’. Muffed voices bring a discomforting sense of the unheimlich, a sense of the intangible and of something just out of the reach of understanding.

Ominous notes hover and ring on the last piece on the first disc, ‘Circadian Surveillance,’ a twenty-five minute exercise in haunting atmospherics, where distant voices are barely audible under a rumble of turning static and hovering notes which resonate into dead air.

Onto disc two, ‘Der Komponist’ – a composition for orchestra and computer – begins quietly, ominously, with protracted near-silences between delicate, low, slow builds, before horns begin to add cinematic drama. It’s very filmic, very – for wont of a better word – soundtracky, and is reminiscent of some of JG Thirlwell’s more recent orchestral works. The climax is a slow, swelling succession of surging brass, underscored by a rippling digital churn.

‘Politicus (Dawn in the Giardini’ is perhaps the lightest and most playful composition of the nine, and utilises the variability and versatility of the prepared disklavier. The original work was a twelve-hour sound installation. The booklet explains the technical aspects in great detail, and Kyriakides outlines the way in which algorithms based on speech drive the formulation of the piece, here in an abridged fourteen-minute segment. The immense complexities behind the composition are completely hidden from the listener, with the surface completely masking the mechanical depths.

The final piece, ‘Oneiricon’ is a work for ensemble and computers. It’s an exploration of dreams, and is often subtle to the point of subliminality. And because Subvoice is very much a ‘background’ work, while it often drifts for significant stretches without really pulling particularly hard on the attention, it does mean that its immense duration is not an issue. Equally, because Subvoice is a collection rather than a work conceived as a single continuous whole, it’s possible to listen and appreciate in segments, without absolute commitment. And it is an album to listen to and appreciate: Kyriakides’ compositions are varied and textured and demonstrate an attention to form and sonic detail which extends far beyond the basic premise of ‘the voice.’

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Gizeh Records – GZH73 – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Because this is a Gizeh release, it’s beautifully presented, housed as it is in tri-fold card sleeve with subtle, minimal artwork. While the front cover is difficult to be certain about, the interior tryptic shows a panoramic landscape of a wide glacial valley somewhere in Britain. Observing the division of the fields draws the attention to the relationship between physical and human geography, and this all feels somehow fitting in the framing of Through the Sparkle.

And because this is a Gizeh release, the music it contains is delicate, haunting, sparse yet rich and contemplative. Through the Sparkle sees French ensemble Astrïd collaborate with American pianist and composer Rachel Grimes to spin seven contemporary classical compositions which massage the senses almost with the softest of touches.

Through the Sparkle is not an ersatz pastoral suite, but does keenly conjure a certain, if indefinable, natural spirit. The piano work is exquisite in its subtlety, rippling gently beneath tapering woodwind on ‘The Theme’, while on ‘Mossgrove & Seaweed’ notes lap evenly and lightly to create an air of lightness, of rapid yet serene movement, natural and fluid. It’s a flickering, shimmering sonic tension that shifts and changes shape over its duration,

Nothing about these pieces feels forced or intrusive. They’re the sonic evocations of dappled shade through leaves on a sultry, sunny August afternoon, a light breeze and the full spectrum of verdant hues – albeit with the shades muted by the distance of fading memory. There’s nothing about Through the Sparkle which feels overtly or calculatedly centred around a sense of nostalgia, but a sad, aching beauty – intangible but distinct – will inevitably evoke a certain wistfulness. And so it is that a degree of melancholy drapes itself around the hushed, rarefied atmosphere of the compositions on Through the Sparkle.

A sombre tone overarches the slow march of ‘The Herald en Masse’, which slowly breaks into an uplifting wash of rhythmic sound. It may not have quite the intensity of Swans, but it’s in the same sphere as it rises toward an almost transcendental sway.

Hesitant notes hover at the start of ‘M5’ and the rich, resonant and loamy tones call to mind latter-day Earth. Its sparse arrangement conjures a spacious atmosphere and pulls the listener’s attention into the details of the tone, texture, reverb and a sense of the individual notes breathing in the space around them.

‘Hollis’ brings a graceful melody that’s sad because it’s beautiful, while ‘M1’, the second-half counterpart to ‘M5’ – feels very much about the space between the notes as brief notational sequences cascade from a softly picked acoustic guitar before silence follows. There’s something almost flamenco about the picking of the strings and the way the notes resonate against one another.

The mournful tones of the final track, ‘Le Petit Salon’ are haunting in their understated discord, as piano and strings drift in different directions over percussion which fade in and out. It’s all about progression and movement.

Through the Sparkle balances shimmering, softly shining upliftingless with shifting shadows. It’s an easy yet rich listening experience which brings with it a sense of the way in which music can enrich the soul.

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Vegetable Records – VEGE003

Christopher Nosnibor

As pianist with The Necks, Chris Abrahams has built not only a substantial body of work but also a reputation as part of a highly respected avant-jazz ensemble. As a solo artist, he’s also produced no fewer than ten albums, and this is his fifth piano work. The album’s seven compositions are notable for being, in any resects, conventional, graceful, elegant and essentially contemporary classical, rather than experimental works.

There’s a crispness and simplicity to the compositions which is beguiling, with rolling melodies making for a soothing listening experience. Abrahams’ musicianship is magnificent, but there’s nothing showy or extravagant about the works. Rippling glissandos and gentle, sedate arabesques define the album, but ‘Overlap’ is arranged around a looping motif played with increasing intensity and force to stirring effect, and the trundling scales of ‘Fern Scrapes’ are performed with a sturdy vigour, and demonstrate a certain playfulness.

Abrahams’ lightness of touch which holds particular appeal, and the album finishes with a light, uptempo flourish that leaves a joyful calmness in the air.

 

Chris Abrahams - Climb