The pieces on this album were written over a span of 10 years and were each conceived as independent works within their own particular contexts. Yet they all have features - formal, technical, extra-musical, etc. - that articulate concentric designs or tendencies. The intimation through musical time of such a non-temporal idea as concentricity is something that fascinates me, as is the way in which a piece can simultaneously tell a linear narrative while still invoking a cyclical or center-oriented continuity. In their own ways, all of the works on this album engage in this interplay.
Concentricity takes on a physical and visual guise in Cold Pastoral where the four players’ symmetrical disposition around a small collection of shared instruments focuses their interaction on a collective median. There is an element of this in the musical material as well, as the pitch and rhythmic structures seem to float, mobile-like around a handful of harmonic, melodic, and timbral axes. Compassinges has a short song setting of A.R.Ammons’ poem “Love Song (I)” as its axial thread. Originally an independent piece that predated Compassinges, the song is like a devotional text at the center of a page whose margins are crowded by surreal and even grotesque characters and commentaries. The voice of the song is a ghostly presence, drifting in and out of obscurity behind the solo percussion and electronically-manipulated strings.
In both Compassinges and Descent, a solo protagonist occupies a central position amongst electrical sonic elements that extend, counterpoint, or alter the character of the featured instrument. In Compassinges, the percussionist spars with but eventually melds into the electro-acoustic accompaniment. The process is more native and linear in Descent, with the increasingly-distorted amplification of the electric guitar providing an opening for a progressive expansion and widening of the instrument’s innate sound. But despite the linearity of its arc, there are ways in which Descent’s lines circle a common mean. For example, the chords that recur throughout the piece (from its opening sound to its final moments) progress cyclically through a range of increasing, then decreasing durations, their end nearing a return to the opening. The piece is also a meditation on Rilke’s poem “Orpheus. Euridice. Hermes.”, and the landscapes, divided senses and temporalities, and inevitable fates of the poem’s characters are like a core around which the piece treads.
The single-movement String Quartet as well as the three-movement trio Dust Shelter and three Shadow Etudes all have in common a middle section or movement characterized by slow, sparse, and delicate music. At the center of the String Quartet, a slow and diaphanous texture of quasi-improvised sound fragments provide an accompaniment to an intimate but restrained violin melody, detangling many of the piece’s multiple strands. In the Etudes, the middle movement is a wispy and ephemeral aria for viola with the bass clarinet acting as its shadow. At the core of Dust Shelter’s second movement - and at the heart of the work as a whole - is an extended viola cadenza that serves as its emotional and thematic summation. In these central moments, the pieces’ dramatic and expressive energies turn most inward and concentrated - nearly-still points from which the rest of the works’ paths radiate.
-Ryan Streber, 2014
New Focus Recordings is an artist led collective label featuring releases in contemporary music of many stripes, as well as
new approaches to older repertoire. The label was founded by guitarist Daniel Lippel (who is the current director), composer engineer Ryan Streber, and composer Peter Gilbert in 2003-4, and features releases from many of new music's most active performers and composers....more