Posts Tagged ‘strings’

Icarus Records i008 – 1st December 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one of those albums, recorded live, that contains continuous sound. This makes sense in context: when improvising a set that’s determined by duration rather than compositions. There is necessarily an element of artifice and restriction around time-constrained ‘slots’. This isn’t necessarily the issue here: Icarus is a radio show, a concert organisation and a record label that focuses on experimental music, contemporary classical and electronica. For more than 10 years, this weekly radio show on Urgent.fm, a university radio station in Ghent, Belgium, invites artists to record live sessions on a monthly basis. Over the years, more than 60 Icarus Live Sessions have been recorded, and the library is still growing.

Five-piece instrumental collective BOW – who play a selection of cellos violins, and, as the name suggests, bowed instruments – played Icarus’ 59th live session in March 2019, and is the first to be released, as a cassette and download.

At times truly beautiful, at others dark and difficult, with manifold shades in between, many of which explore dissonant, challenging sonic spaces that test the listener’s capacity in a host of ways as things veer out of sumptuous classical territory and into dramatic discord, Bow lead the listener through succession of passages. The final minutes are laden with drama, transitioning from a soft jazz swing into a raging tempest of scraping string-bleeding trauma, a surging crescendo that assails the senses with a sustained intensity. This is improvisation at its best, where a collective can read one another and the immediate space around them to not only coalesce each segment and segue between them naturally and intuitively, but to form an overall structure from beginning to end that feels planned, arranged, co-ordinated.

There’s a bonus track on the cassette release: another half-hour of difficult, dissonant drones which begin as a brooding chamber orchestra work and evolves – or perhaps more accurately mutates -into something less graceful but altogether more powerful.

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A ‘stripped back electronic companion to Omertà and Fermi’, Reconstructed Memories features just Paul Kirkpatrick and cellist Rachel Dawson. Kirkpatrick describes it as ‘quite different, more ambient but hopefully still engaging and melodic’, and frames it as ‘the story of life in an hour’.

Omertà and The Fermi Paradox were very different albums, with the latter (link) being an ambitiously expansive work, pushing outwards in all directions, not least in its exploration of time and space. Reconstructed Memories is much more inwardly-focused, and while it’s far from claustrophobic or suffocating, its minimal approach is, in itself, enough to redirect the energy and create a very different atmosphere.

As opening piece, the atmospheric, piano-led ‘A Beginning’ suggests, this is a linear, chronological work. The spoken-word intro, presumably delivered by Dawson, is instructive and creates the space for Reconstructed Memories to unfurl. ‘What should I write and tell? Big stories, big memories are always there… Let’s talk about some small, beautiful memories… Life is full of small memories…’ And it’s so very true. Life is not about the events, but the everyday details. It’s is easy to miss those details, too, caught up in simply existing, and waiting for the events, But you won’t move house, get married, have a child, or otherwise experience something momentous daily, or even often. Landmarks are rare and infrequent, and are relative in the context of the trajectory of a life. But life goes on, and is defined by those fleeting interactions. It’s not just the devil who exists in the detail, but life itself which occupies the cracks and recesses, the spaces in between.

And so it moves, in an evolutionary trajectory, gradually unfurling, expanding, revealing new vistas through a series of memories, reflections, and reconstructions. And it’s beautifully executed, each piece a perfectly-formed vignette delicately spun from soft, rolling piano and graceful strings. The moods are varied, at times light and lilting, others more melancholic and pensive, but ever-shifting and ever-evocative.

‘Regression One’ takes a step into darker territories, with a whispered spoken word narrative and connotations of the awkward, disturbing plunderance of the recesses of memory picked psychotherapy. How real and accurate are those memories? Memories are unreliable, coloured by perspective and faded by time. The effect, is, as the title of the next piece intimates, a blurring. Picked guitar echoes hesitantly, decaying into the mist among atmospheric, ambient strings. The arrangements make optimal use of the minimal instrumentation to create music that’s spacious and contemplative.

The artistic success of Reconstructed Memories lies in its vagueness. Such non-specificity places the process of input onto the listener, and it is they who find themselves reflecting on their experiences, their own hazy and tainted memories, prompted by abstract reminders to turn their gaze inwards. It’s the complete absence of context or meaning which renders the album simultaneously universal and personal.

Screenshot_2019-05-16 Reconstructed Memories Pre-Release Listening Masters

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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