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Strenuous Pleasures

by Eric Moe

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    releases November 3, 2023

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Strenuous Pleasures
Deep Ecology
Spirit Mountain
Demon Theory
Welcome to Phase Space


Pittsburgh based composer Eric Moe releases Strenuous Pleasures, a collection of chamber music written in the decade 2010-2020. Featuring performances by counter)induction, Da Capo Chamber Players, Horszowski Trio, cellist David Russell, and saxophonist Elliott Riley, this recording demonstrates Moe’s seamless navigation between ecstatic, complicated rhythmic material and flowing, lyrical music, as well as his unique approach to musique concrète within the electro-acoustic realm.

In his program notes to the title work, Moe writes that “a dramatic tension is generated by the contrast between two kinds of music: angular landscapes made up of disjunct, aggressively driving melodic lines with more lyrical areas characterized by melodies that are more vocal in character.” This ecstatic contrast is emblematic of Moe’s writing, as is the sheer physical virtuosity these works require.

The title work of the collection, Strenuous Pleasures (2010), might be Moe’s own “Ode to Joy”: an extravagant romp for the listener as well as the performers. After a heraldic opening, a quieter inner section (despite a Puck-ish alertness) is followed by a jazz-infused dazzle of a close. There’s such fun in the active engagement between instruments — sometimes paired in duets, other times given the opportunity to, in Moe’s words, “wail away” — that it’s easy for a listener to forget the technical prowess required, the strenuous work that results in its own pleasure. Strenuous Pleasures is dedicated to the composer Paul Lansky, Moe’s first composition teacher.

Deep Ecology (2020) is a duo for cellist David Russell and electroacoustic fixed media. Moe writes that the piece “takes its name from the environmental philosophy that affirms the dependence of humans upon all life forms…in this view, there is no Humanity Nature split.” In the piece, a lush soundscape of “recorded periodic sounds made by other creatures (e.g. insects, birds, frogs) together with other human-made instruments that imitate such sounds,” is abruptly interrupted by a solo cello. The fact that the cellist must work around these pre-recorded sounds — that is, is entirely dependent upon their tempos and rhythms — is not apparent to the listener, but serves as an effective (and terrifying) illustration of the title philosophy.

Spirit Mountain (2010) was written in memoriam to J. Karla Lemon, an advocate for contemporary music, and a conductor who became a close friend of the composer’s. The composer writes, “[Spirit Mountain] is based on an offering song by the Nepalese court singer Tashi Tsering, one of many recorded by composer Andrea Clearfield and anthropologist Katey Blumenthal..” Moe was taken by one solo work of Tsering’s in which hand-drumming alternates with singing. In Moe’s work, Tsering’s melody is threaded through the ensemble: shorter snatches of the stanzaic melody are heard at first, but ultimately it is quoted in its entirety, combined with the rhythm of Tsering’s hand-drum introduction. Here the melody quakes with that particular loneliness of the survivor, knowing the loss of a unique language once shared with a friend or the loss of an entire culture’s language.

What Instruments We Have Agree (2015) draws its title from a line in W.H. Auden’s elegy, “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.” Written in memoriam for composer Lee Hyla, a friend of Moe’s, What Instruments… is a virtuosic ensemble work that nevertheless manages to convey a sense of solitary introversion. Moe writes, “a wailing bass clarinet riff from Lee [Hyla’s] House of Flowers insinuated itself into my piece.” In response to the bass clarinet’s wail, the piano roars a propulsive solo described in the score as Sisyphean, its trajectory forever interrupted. The bass clarinet feverishly returns, accompanied in its wailing by the strings, as the piano shifts into a staggered rhythmic ostinato until it joins the bass clarinet in a stirring growl, then a tender recapitulation of the theme. The piece closes with a flattened affect, a final loss. What Instruments… is written for and performed by the composer/performer collective counter)induction.

Demon Theory (2013) was commissioned by saxophonist Elliot Riley and is performed here by Riley and the composer on piano. The title references physicist James Maxwell’s thought experiment that conjectures an entity that would meddle with the energy states of two connected systems, a position which, Moe cannily admits, is not unlike the position in which duet composers find themselves. The “two connected systems” of saxophone and piano vibrate with unstable tension, but through the course of the piece the listener ultimately finds familiarity, or even a certain amount of calm, in the reiteration of the piece’s jagged theme.

Welcome to Phase Space (2014) was written for, and performed by, the Horszowski Trio, with a dedication to the flutist Laura Gilbert, who helped facilitate the project. The term ‘phase space’ comes from physics; here Moe employs astrophysicist Shrinivas Kulkarni’s study of phase space as found in luminosity in novae and supernovae over time to create a soundscape as vivid and gently haunting as any photograph received from the James Webb Space Telescope. Perhaps the album’s most traditional piece here cloaked in its most futuristic garb, Welcome to Phase Space is as if Aaron Copland met Eric Satie in a dazzling interstellar molecular union.

– Edited from program notes by Carolyn Ogburn


releases November 3, 2023

Strenuous Pleasures:
Recorded March 22, 2019, at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York
Produced and engineered by Judith Sherman
Engineering and editing assistant: Jeanne Velonis
Steinway technician: Michael Talley

Deep Ecology:
Recorded January 23, 2022 at Joel Gordon Audio Recording Studio
Joel Gordon, producer

Spirit Mountain:
Concert recording at Merkin Concert Hall, NYC, April 6, 2022

What Instruments We Have Agree:
Recorded March 29, 2023, at Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY
Producer and Engineered by Ryan Streber
Editors: Ryan Streber, Charles Mueller

Demon Theory:
Recorded October 10, 2015 at SWR Studio, Freiburg, Germany
Christoph Ruetz, producer

Welcome to Phase Space:
Recorded September 20, 2016, at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York Produced and engineered by Judith Sherman
Engineering and editing assistant: Jeanne Velonis
Steinway technician: Joel Bernache

Mastered by Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio

Cover image: Birdcall and Mountains 2023 by Laurie Fader

Design, layout & typography: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com




New Focus Recordings New York, New York

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

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