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People don’t like to be put in boxes, yet categorization is essential for understanding.  For example, we’ve placed this album in Modern Composition, zeroing in on its dominant element.  Drum & Lace (Sofia Hultquist) would likely prefer Other, although that’s not one of our genres.  “Outsider Complex Part 1 and 2” bracket the EP, and speak to a feeling of “never quite fitting in.”  We have an alternate proposition: that the chameleon’s ability to fit in multiple places is a more valuable trait, loosely defined as flexibility or adaptability.  This is where Hultquist does fit in ~ the outsider turned insider by default.  These two pieces (which seem even more like one when played in reverse order, the ending of the last mimicking the beginning and end of the first) are rife with yearning, the strings reaching for something undefined, the piano seeking out a melody, the cello tentatively staking a claim.  Outsider status can be a badge, rather than an albatross.  The brilliant bookend bursts are declarative, as if the artist is making an announcement: now I know who I am.

Are these semi songs?  The title is ironic.  Would these compositions, if given words, protest that they are full songs, and thus real songs, echoing Pinocchio?  Would they be upset that they have been put in a box?  To reference a current film, Toy Story 4‘s Forky is considered a real toy, even though he seems physically incomplete.  In the same way, one might say that none of us are complete (although some are striving for completeness while others are not).

Tackling a societal theme, Hultquist notes the aspects shared by humanity, along with the forces that threaten social cohesion.  It’s easy to glean a larger message in the statement, “the sparseness of the arrangements at times allows for the different instrument’s voices to speak to one another, conversing throughout different ranges and pitches, checking in with one another.”  Each voice is indeed distinct, although each finds its sonic space, members of the animal kingdom claiming their own frequencies.  In “Parhelion,” the piano decides to prance.  As if inspired, the violin joins the fray in like a proud reindeer.  In “Gardenia,” which takes up half of the EP’s length, everything is calmer, more confident.  One can hear the garden growing seed by seed.  When one feels like an outsider, one has a choice: to try harder to join a group of insiders, losing one’s self in the process; or to create an alternative space, shepherding other outsiders to the fold.  This is what Hultquist accomplishes in this tender, intricate release.  (Richard Allen)

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Interrelation is at the heart of Juri Seo’s Respiri, the connective tissue that binds all those things we think of as separate or incompatible. Classical and avant-garde, simple and complex, warm and cold, tonal and atonal – the list goes on, and while this in itself is not exactly an original position, Seo’s innovative approach makes the distinctions between those things a border instead of a chasm. In it, the old and the new mingle, creating familiar-yet-unknown forms, establishing a fluidity that is relatively rare in the world of attempting to bridge apparent opposites. “Respiri”, the first track, is an homage to the late Jonathan Harvey, whose compositions, like Seo’s after him, tend towards the questioning and dissolution of fixed, strong musical identities. His Buddhism led him to make musical analogies of meditative states that are not underpinned by the Cartesian body/mind division, and which are therefore full of bodily references. One of the most important is breathing, which Seo takes as the theme for the first track, that simple, yet mind-stunningly complex, connection between inner and outer life. The resulting music is full of expansive harmonies as much as it is of small-scale expressive melodies; there is a certain sweetness to the many moments of silence that the piece is built around, its rhythm an organic variation that placidly ends with tender dissipation.

This (un)easy border between life and death is perhaps the background of the dense, almost lonely “Suite for Cello” (played by Joann Whang), whose five pieces – a classical structure – continually mutate from one emotional state to another without sharp distinctions. Like in everyday life, very different feelings happen simultaneously, or one after the other without necessarily having ended, revealing the supposed unity of the mind as an illusion. The cello here sometimes moves incessantly, almost anxiously, through soft musical phrases, only to grow loud and stable, transitioning from fragment to whole and back again without as much as a hint of the end of whatever came before. The classical structure of the suite, made up of distinct but connected dances in which something always clearly starts and something always clearly ends (corresponding to the rules of the dances themselves), is here individualized, fractured into the sweep of ‘modern’, rule-ignoring dance. In this sense, it feels like a very personal piece, like all those thoughts and feelings that swell and fade constantly into both the mind and the body, their distinction merely a zone in which they all come to relate.

The album ends with the “Infinite Season” string quartet (played by the Argus Quartet), which makes those transitions much more obvious: the first piece is named “Winter-Spring”, the second “Spring-Summer”, and so on, until the cycle is complete. Each of these seasons, in themselves, mean little, and acquire their true complexity only in relation to each other. Life and death are both sad and happy, integration and re-integration into the world, their border an expressive flux of classical flourishes and modernist stridency. It is that tenderness at the end of the Jonathan Harvey memorial, sometimes a simple feeling for a complex event, sometimes the other way around. Like the animal sounds of the strings in part II, that give way to absolute silence, it is an infinity of fragments that is also an infinite whole, the stormy atonality of part III a noisy synthesis of both. The quartet closes peacefully, almost silent, ready for the agitation of the new cycle.

It is without refrain that I can say that Seo has mastered fluidity, the easiness of transition between poles that would seem irreconcilable. If you’d ask me where the border between all those things was, I’d say it’s everywhere, at all times, and it’s not made for division, but for connection. (David Murrieta Flores)

Respiri - in memoriam Jonathan Harvey (2016) - SoundCloud
(462 secs long, 1244 plays)Play in SoundCloud

Available here.

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The THESIS PROJECT continues with another wonderful series, this one meant to accompany listeners while they travel.  The length of the compositions ~ presented here by William Ryan Fritch, Drombeg, Hotel Neon and Marcus Fischer ~ invites immersion.  Three pieces are over twenty minutes long, the fourth ten.

As one can glean from the title, this is the second of a three-part series; the first included tracks from Fiona Brice, Bruno Sanfilippo, Rutger Zuydervelt and Stijn Hüwels, and the third is due later this year.  The label’s entire output is worth investigating for its handmade packaging and constant innovation.  Earlier this year, another series, THESIS RECURRING, made its debut, specializing in gorgeous one-minute loops.

Is “Unsettled Air” an EP nestled within an album or a single, multi-movement work?  Replete with pauses, William Ryan Fritch‘s gentle piece honors its title by refusing to rest.  Every time one thinks, “ah, the piano has disappeared, and now the other instruments have gone to bed as well,” they sneak out and clamber down the fire escape to play on the moonlit grass.  There’s something charged about the air at night ~ or in terms of this set, the air experienced on a trip.  What once seemed stagnant is now alive; the molecules sing with activity like miniature fireflies.  The organ is the unifying factor, signifying the holiness of the journey.  When the air is unsettled, anything can happen: storm, lull, revelation.  By treating his subject with tenderness, Fritch lays the groundwork for awe.

We’ve been waiting a few years for new music from Drombeg (Thomas Brookes), who impressed us with his debut album in 2016.  Since then he’s released a vocal album as Cave Birds, but “The White Raven” is the first resurrection of the prior moniker.  Segueing well with Fritch’s launch, “The White Raven” is built on a foundation of piano and strings, held together by a three-note motif and a faint jew’s harp.  Halfway through, the piece enters a higher level, like a second wind.  Hopefully we will hear a new album soon.

As expected, Hotel Neon calms things down a bit with “Phase Changes,” the moniker a match for a road trip.  One can almost hear the neon crackling at the start of the piece.  Drones emerge as cars passing on the highway.  Again, this seems like the middle of the night, an association aided by the cover image of a crocodile moon.  In mid-piece, the timbres settle down to tendrils, like moonbeams passing through a window.  Cars continue to pass, but nobody honks.  Nobody slams a door.  Every traveler is considerate, driving on slippered feet.  The stage is set for Marcus Fischer‘s “Skypark,” a quiet study for acoustic guitar and field recording.  The further reduction in sonic density makes the entire set seem like a day winding down slowly, landing on contentment.  This is what it feels like to drive, or in this case to fly, falling asleep with the blinds open, allowing the clouds to capture one’s pillowed dreams.  (Richard Allen)

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Iceland’s Siggi String Quartet makes a strong debut with South of the Circle, presenting works by some of the nation’s finest modern composers along with a striking composition from one of their own.  Daniel Bjarnason and Valgeir Sigurðsson provide the entry points, but by the end, there are new names to celebrate and learn.

The CD debut of “Stillshot” represents a full circle of sorts, as Bjarnason’s initial offering, “All Sounds Come to Silence,” debuted on an album from Ísafold.  Over the past decade, the artist has continued to go from strength to strength.  “Stillshot” is meant to “depict fragmented memories of a noblewoman,” yet doesn’t eliminate a more general reading.  The contrast between soft and harsh, low and loud is exquisite; one can imagine a life cycle of turmoil and reconciliation.  Siggi String Quartet immediately proves its mettle by tackling a work of such emotional diversity, often turning on a dime to shift to another dynamic.  In the finale, the quartet plucks and pulls its way to a satisfying conclusion.

One rubs the eyes when seeing the title “Nebraska” paired with the composer Sigurðsson.  Shouln’t that read Springsteen?  But no ~ the composer compared notes with a colleague whose residency had been in the Cornhusker State.  Finding parallels between Nebraska and his native Iceland, Sigurðsson noted “the sense of isolation, timelessness, and wide open spaces.”  This being said, the opening is dramatic, a widescreen explosion of color like a dusty sunset behind a barreling tornado.  Things calm down in “Landlocked,” but the impression has been made: wonderful and terrible things can happen at any time, and although they can be seen coming, one may not be able to escape.  “Erosion” returns to the excitement, yet is frustratingly short; in “Plainsong,” the cropduster makes a gentle landing.

Haukur Tómasson is well-known across Scandanavia, although still a relatively unknown name in the States.  He’s one of a number of Icelandic composers who seems poised to break in a big way, and the percussive “Serimonia” (written for the quartet) is a succinct expression of his talent.  By alternating restraint with outburst, the piece recalls the tone of the opener, while the midsection’s staccato strings honor Penderecki.  In contrast, the career of pianist and composer Mamiko Dís Ragnarsdóttir has just begun; her first album was released in 2016, and “For Flowers” was debuted by the quartet last year.  This composition delves into color and impression, reflecting the experience of viewing a painting by countryman Eggert Pétursson.  The album’s longest single-movement composition, “For Flowers” is also its tenderest, no surprise given the subject matter.  Yet within this quarter-hour there is great variation, like the unfurling of petals in the sun and the fading of sharpness over time.

This brings us to one of the quartet’s violinists, Una Sveinbjarnardóttir, who stands among giants and fits right in.  The four-part “Opacity” plays perfectly off of Bjarnason’s piece, waiting for the second movement to shift tone.  As it turns out, Sveinbjarnardóttir has been operating for nearly two decades, working with artists as diverse as Björk and the aforementioned Penderecki (everything’s connected!), releasing a solo album in 2012 and scoring an acclaimed documentary.  As a founding member of Siggi String Quartet, she demonstrates her generosity by giving each member a spotlight: four movements, four leads.  The title track (for solo cello) is the most immediate, but the combination provides a perfect opportunity for a victory lap.  South of the Circle is a joyous expression of modern Icelandic chamber music: one of the world’s smallest nations with one of the world’s biggest sounds.  (Richard Allen)

Stillshot (2015) Daníel Bjarnason - SoundCloud
(660 secs long, 53 plays)Play in SoundCloud

Available here

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The mystery of Horror Vacui begins with the Rorschach test of the cover.  To me, it looks like an Icelandic cave; it’s actually an MRI of the human brain.  So close!  The title refers to the tendency of an artist to fill all available space, reflecting the famous aphorism, “nature abhors a vacuum.” As the EP progresses, Harnes Kretzer does exactly that, crowding out the light with ever more oppressive layers.  The titles:  “AGEN$,” “TREM0R,” “DESPER0” and “0BLIGATI0,” seem to refer to an advancing illness (and perhaps, due to the zeros and dollar sign, an expensive one).  Assemble the pieces, and the plot makes sense.  This is the short score to a debilitating brain disease, a fight that cannot be won, noble yet dark, with an unhappy yet resonant ending.

The symphonics lift this EP over others of its ilk.  The orchestral elements never seem to give up, even when drowned out.  Legible in the opening track, the notes are as hopeful as a pilgrim on the first leg of a journey.  The piano strikes a hero’s theme; perhaps no sacrifices will need to be made.  Percussion, electronics and brass paint a happy picture, but this is no overture; it’s innocence.  The slower, sadder “TREM0R” allows reality to seep in, a mournful adagio.  The main theme is repeated, more resonant each time; there’s no escaping this diagnosis.  And then the EP’s highlight, “DESPER0,” which comes across as a losing battle, a last scream into the night.  A squeak of protest is met by a reduction in viscosity, a final pause before the plunge. Try as the strings may, they cannot halt the encroaching darkness, only establish a longer echo.  The opening bars of “0BLIGATI0” sound like “Taps,” suffused with a sense of inevitability.

The EP’s only real downside is its length; the four tracks seem like part of a larger work, and may one day be expanded into such.  On the other hand, diseases are often diagnosed quickly, and loved ones are lost much sooner than expected.  In this sense, the length imitates the experience of being robbed; so much goodness, gone before we had the chance to say goodbye.  (Richard Allen)

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In the old days, a remix EP usually meant that a single track would be remixed into the most club-friendly form possible.  The artist’s original vision was often buried beneath the almighty beat.  This hit-or-miss proposition was often prompted by a label’s desire to produce a hit at any cost.

Times have changed, and Traces – Remixes is a perfect example.  Hearing the percussive hits of “Trigger,” one imagines how easily the taps could have been changed into steady dance beats, and voilà!  Resina would be sharing the floor with Marshmello and Alan Walker.  Such is not her intention; nor is it the intention of the label or the remixers.  In fact, Abul Mogard heads in a completely different direction, doubling the length of the original track, smoothing out its protruding angles, producing a piece that no longer hammers, but shimmers.  One can still hear the cellist, although her music seems time-stretched, her timbres cradled in electronic arms.  The tone, however, is amplified.  Mogard teases out the implied menace that lurks in her cover art, staying faithful to the artist while underlining one of her essential characteristics.  Surging forward in its final minutes, the “Trigger” remix is a masterwork in carefully constructed drone.

“In” is a different beast.  The opening track of Traces is a pensive, looping piece with a touch of distant vocals.  It’s no wonder this caught the attention of Ian William Craig, who adds his own tender vocals to the remix.  Solemn repetitions make the new version even more melancholic.  Fragments of static grace the edges; the vocals dissolve into flutter in the finale.  One can hear the tape machine being clicked, the method incorporated into the composition.

And then there is “In In,” which on the original album is a logical extension of “In.”  Resina’s voice provides the early anchor before her cello takes over.  A segment of holy chimes leads to another of pounding drums: a third mood for Resina, demonstrating the breadth of her range.  This is where Ben Frost and Lotic find an entrance.  As expected, neither artist is content to let the beats stay where they “should.”  Frost scatters them about, alternating with snatches of Resina’s voice to create a fascinating hybrid, combining the best of both talents.  Keyboard notes rise in one speaker, balanced by chords in the other.  This “In In” comes across as a new sonic world.  Lotic’s take is single-length yet complex.  Sharp percussion, chalk writing and hums distinguish this version from the Frost remix, allowing them to co-exist on the same EP.  The art of the remix has evolved, and we’re all the better for it!  (Richard Allen)

Want more Resina?  Check out this amazing podcast from February, courtesy of A Closer Listen’s Joseph Sannicandro and Sound Propositions!

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Order and chaos. We usually think of them in manicheistic terms, as fundamentally incompatible states that are mutually annulling, extending that same logic to the relationship between the avant-garde and tradition. Dead Beats relies on that contrasting setup to carry out its demolition by means of a haphazard melodic flow that softly, even weakly, states: anarchy is order. “Inner Cities”, which started out as a single piano piece and grew into a 12-piece, 6-hour long musical cycle, twists and turns into the psychic landscape of composer Alvin Curran, full of people and places all over Europe and the US, outlined with events so fantastic they could only belong to the mundane (“to help Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik get an introduction to the Pope”). It is not that we contain multitudes, but that multitudes contain us, the impossibility of our singularity dispersed among the memories that cling to every other object and every other subject, all that matter we continually shed and which is perfectly layered into dust with the passing of time.

On the other side, “Dead Beats” parts from a classicality ironically named – the hints of traditional structures that do not behave responsibly, the subtle suggestion of uselessness’ supreme value, rules in the service of nothing in particular, or in other words, sheer play. The two pieces superficially contrast with each other as formal opposites, but both of them tend towards uncertainty, towards falling apart and rebuilding themselves anew, wielding spontaneous emotions (somber severity, estrangement, and hope in the first track; playfulness, tension, and wonder in the second) to gel together disparate aural experiences. Heavy, expressionist chords blast away into dramatic, romantic harmony, a simple melody suddenly transforms into ambient diffusion – structures revolt like dust falling back in seemingly identical yet completely different patterns, the intense fragmentation of perception and reasoning stumbles into said patterns as if they had a reason. Order becomes an outcome of chance, but the experience of it is made only possible by the thought of an underlying system.

Reinier van Houdt’s playing perfectly conveys this anarchic spirit, the feeling of taking the entirely wrong steps and yet arriving at the chosen destination, the unseen object of desire. “Inner Cities”, which in this recording bears the subtitle “9-11-01”, seems immersed in uncertainty, with van Houdt laying out the piece as if he was, like us, listening to it for the first time. Yet the uncertainty also recedes and stable forms emerge, whereas in “Dead Beats” the flow moves in the opposite direction, with certainty sometimes going missing, an absence that beautifully glows from beyond the patterns, unexpectedly coming back in jazzy or in classicist phrases. Van Houdt seems very sure of where he’s taking us, and it is in this contrast where we can realize just how much that underlying system is mostly equivalent to an act of faith. It is order, and yet we are far from being in control. That means, to retake the initial thread, that it all naturally falls into place, that the fragments need no external referents, that there is no opposition between those two terms but continuity, complementarity, a (chance) game of presence and absence. “Dead Beats Part V” sounds like van Houdt is just making things up on the go, its zigzagging rhythm blundering around ragtime like a drunken Nancarrow player piano, a cartesian nightmare in which we are only human, we are all just dead beats accidentally coming in at the right time, at least every now and then, and that’s OK. (David Murrieta Flores)

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Stijn van Wakeren ~ Wonder Wickets

Wonder Wickets is a cheery mini-golf game with a happy soundtrack to match, taking cues from party games and underlined by a Japanese-game-soundtrack melodic sensibility that makes it just shine with color. Its classicality transforms the party game musical tropes (dancey, Latin rhythms and fast, sometimes jazzy development) into something to chill out to, flowing between relaxation and excitement with ease. “Isn’t Everything Green”, one of my favorite game music pieces of the year so far, begins with a sweet string melody bursting forth with a cheerful energy made only stronger by its dialogue with a quick accordion section that pins down the joyful, dreamy carnivalesque tone. It successfully blends a neoclassical approach to simple emotivity (think Sunwrae or Peter Broderick) with edge-of-your-seat party game use of festive rhythms. This approach grants Wonder Wickets an originality that springs from repurposing genre standards; “Birdy Birdy” transforms from fanfare to ultra-short meditative bits to grand fanfare, only to slow down by the end with a playfully tense piano melody and restart everything from scratch. “One Here One There”, the longest track in the OST at 8 minutes (most other tracks average about 2 minutes and a bit), is surprisingly engaging given its repetitive nature, its succession of instrumental solos over the same melodic arrangement providing an interesting, jazzy twist on the soundtrack’s themes. It also marks the second section of the album, which switches around into more electronic territory, emphasizing beats and contrasting rhythms (like the drifting, yet concise “Space UFOria”), culminating with the undanceably fast, mostly electronic “Star Crossed (Karaoke Version)”. With Wonder Wickets, Stijn van Wakeren demonstrates their fluency in exactly what every good videogame soundtrack achieves: an eclecticism that does not simply mash together styles and genres, but that wields them effectively to create music that enriches more than just a game’s soundworld.

LudoWic, Bill Kiley, DJ Electrohead, Justin Stander, Tunç Çakır ~ Katana Zero

Synthwave is now old enough for us to be able to talk about classical versions of it. Predictable, yet punchy and addictively fun beats, an electronic set of sounds that reimagine the limits of 80s synths to great effect, and powerful subgenre variations into an imaginary projection of what we pretended to be the dark recesses of the neoliberal imagination that birthed us. All the way back in 2012, Hotline Miami unified these elements into the game soundtrack form, but it also grew outwards into the fields of experimental music and noise rock. One of its tendrils extended into an interestingly Gothic vein of synthwave, where artists like Carpenter Brut reign supreme. Katana Zero also brings all of it into a powerful OST, tainted by the neo-noir interests of the purple-shaded alley of a solitary midnight murder, but it also content to perfect and refine a well-established form, its most modernist impulses tamed. Tracks like Bill Kiley’s “Chinatown” blister with neon techno, and when it pushes into jazzy territory it becomes much more than just a dance track. However, it does not become an opportunity to delve into unknown territory, but to reformulate synthwave convention into something vital once again, slightly adjusting the aesthetic just enough to make it excitingly predictable, in true classicist fashion. Others, like LudoWic’s “Panoramic Feelings”, seem to cross the wild, with a minimalist synth collage upon which is overlaid a short and pretty piano melody, but these are not meant to question or explode the foundations of the style – they expand said bases, and the style becomes greater for it. Then there are archetypal synthwave tracks like DJ Electrohead’s “Hit the Floor”, which embody the style at its late-night-rave best. The more drone-like tracks, such as Justin Stander’s “A Tense Moment” or LudoWic and Tunç Çakır’s “Blue Room” evoke those more radical moments in the Hotline Miami soundtrack, but they never take the plunge into the darkness, which is to say they never dwell too much in an anti-humanist void, always bringing the music back to the warmth of a noir melody. Katana Zero is the synthwave game soundtrack at its classical peak, so it will be difficult to top for anyone who wishes to enter the arena in the coming years. (David Murrieta Flores)

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Deceptive Cadence is the crown jewel of Lost Tribe Sound’s latest subscription series, if not of their entire discography.  This is only fitting as William Ryan Fritch ~ who also records as Vieo Abiungo ~ is the label’s signature artist.  Deceptive Cadence makes a perfect introduction for neophytes, and a generous gift for fans: nearly 150 minutes of music spread across two discs, and not a single skippable track.

How did Fritch do such a thing?  The answer is fairly simple, as he went back over the selections on Volume I (2015), revising some and excising others, leaving only the cream of the crop.  New songs and sequencing have been added as well, beginning with the self-explanatory “Reshuffle the Deck.”  It must have been hard to resist the urge to be inclusive.  Of the tracks that only appear in the original set, nothing is over 2:28, and while many of the remaining tracks are shorter than that, they justify their inclusion with memorable themes.  We’re less harsh on Fritch as he is on himself, having chosen the original as one of the best film score albums of its year.  But we understand the cuts, as some of the excised tracks seemed to fade out before they began.  Standout track “Processional” is still here, and now there are others as well.  “Lauren’s Love” is downright gorgeous, an early highlight of swirling strings and voice.  “Our Thirsting World” is as gentle and speculative as its title.  “Same River” has a dark cello motif that virtually leaps from the speakers.  The bottom line for fans is that even without Volume II, Volume I would be worth buying again.

And now to Volume II.  Fritch has a lot of material to choose from, having scored 30 full-length films and over 100 short films in the last decade (as well as releasing 20 albums!).  This level of productivity usually leads to a decline in quality, and we typically warn composers against it, as we feel their best ideas get watered down.  But Fritch is one of the very few who buck the odds, perhaps second only to Machinefabriek when it comes to the equation of output x quality.  These 20 tracks bring the total to 45, which makes this a good time to mention that the double album is sold at single-album price.  These pieces are from newer films, and represent a slightly quieter, more nuanced side of the composer.

Subdued piano sets “All the Feels” apart from the bombast of Volume I, as well as from Calvin Harris’ popular song of a similar title.  “Lionize” gradually mixes in emotion rather than pouring it in all at once.  “Sanguine” is ambient in nature, reflecting its title.  Not that Fritch has gone soft; he’s simply deepened his tonal palette, most strikingly on the seven-minute “Sleight of Hand,” the first of two extended pieces in the set.  This is a different Fritch, but it’s also the same Fritch, as we’d recognize those languid themes anywhere.

Those who prefer the artist’s wilder side will still have plenty to plunge into here, beginning with “Implosion,” whose Indian inflections lend the track the impression of a Bengal tiger; and continuing with the percussive, raga-influenced “Ricochet.”  By the time we reach “When Tragedy Coheres,” all our thoughts are in widescreen.  There’s not much more that one can ask of a film composer than to stretch boundaries like this; after ten years, William Ryan Fritch is still capable of surprise, and we’re looking forward to even more surprises in the decade to come.  (Richard Allen)

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The Bigo & Twigetti label operates in the same vein as Marvel movies: solo projects are followed by team-ups, and then a group is assembled.  Cenes features Fiona Brice (violin / piano), Tony Woodward (cello) and Jim Perkins (piano, production), with all three listed as writers.

The trio approached their sessions as an opportunity to improvise and sculpt spontaneous sounds.  This relaxed approach led to a feeling of liberation, and judging from the tone of this set, a quiet joy.  The pieces may be short, but they capture the ephemeral quality of collaboration: this music materializes from the mist, and it shimmers with the weight of fog.

Preview track “Sparks” sounds like the tuning of a small orchestra, an inventory of potential textures before the melodies emerge.  Once ranges are established, a question is asked:  “Hope?”  This is a curious name for a track, indicative of the current state of the U.K.  Whenever artists choose collaboration over isolation, the answer is “Yes.”  The melancholy of the measures is offset by the process behind the recording.  The title piece returns to this tone, and at 1:22 begs for extension, developing rapidly on the back of stringed horses but fading when the barn door is opened.  There may be a lesson here as well, although it’s harder to glean.

“Approaching” yields the set’s most classic shape: a rising and falling of chords, like the breath of a sleeping giant.  Each piano note is cautiously placed, so as not to wake the dreamer.  When the track ends, the EP ends, although the conclusion is open-ended; one can still imagine the chest expanding and contracting.  The performers return to their homes, the producer to his studio, but the music lives on, asking and answering its sole question: a short, essential solace.  (Richard Allen)

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