Saturday, May 28, 2011
Jürg Frey - "Metal, Stone, Skin, Foliage, Air" (l'Innomable)
It's been a good year, thus far, for great recordings. Rowe/Malfatti, two amazing Pisaros and now this one.
Frey's piece, superbly performed by Nick Hennies, dates from 1996-2001. I think this may generally be the case, although I don't know Frey's oeuvre intimately enough, but his work tends to be more overtly active than many other Wandelweiserians. "Metal, Stone, Skin, Foliage, Air" is set forth in clear, readily delineated sequences yet manages to breath in a very natural manner, not to come off as didactic in any way. As with other work I've heard from him, there's an undercurrent of narrative that's as beautiful as it is extremely subtle. As with much wonderful contemporary composed music (especially that emerging from the Wandelweiser group), while experiencing it, any lines between the written structure and the acoustic, physiological effects produced by the instrumentalist(s) performing it are blurred; it's very difficult (for me, anyway) to parse out both while listening, something I can only do in retrospect.
Depending how one wishes to break it down, MSSFA is in 9-11 sections. I take it they're precisely time, though the breaks seem to fall on 10-second marks rather than whole minutes. Given general Wandelweiser aesthetics, it's a bit of a shock when the piece begins in full force with a light, steady, medium tempo rhythm is heard on what sounds like a glockenspiel or celesta, though the wavering pitch has me wondering whether it might be a home-constructed metallophone of some kind. Immediately, one hears the dual nature of the music: the structure (here, at first, simply the rhythm) and the larger effects of the sound, in this case a wealth of gorgeous overtones. I'm not sure if there was overdubbing employed of if it's possible that overtones from a single source can result in the kind of scalar sequences one perceives here; whatever, the case, it quickly draws you into the world. At 7:20, we shift to a different set of metal, though still in the same family, with differing overtones. The rhythm remains the same, constant. This portion also lasts for 7:20, giving one the initial view that we'd encounter a series of these equally timed portions. Wrong.
At 14:40, a haze of cymbalry occurs, though again there are high, ringing overtones that sound as though they could be from other sources. In any case, the explicit rhythm has ceased but the continuation of a metal sound acts as a bridge. Mirroring the first two sections, though not strictly duplicating them, at 19:30 the palette shifts, remaining in the brushed metal area (tam-tam?) but lowering the overall pitch, shifting the overtones. So, we've had four sections and, again, have a limited view of the overall structure, a view that once more is subverted when, at 24:20, the stones are introduced, maintaining the non-explicit rhythm (though there's something of a pattern in the sense of iterated circular movement as they're rubbed on what seems to be a metallic surface, perhaps a bowl. I should say, I think these are stones. So, in this transition, Frey has kept the general attack, changed the source.
At 29:10, there's the clearest break in the composition, what turns out to be the conclusion of the first half of the work. A light, tapping rhythm, more rapid than at the piece's beginning, is heard on a snare drum and it's metal side (again, guessing). It alternates in steady beats of 20/16 for a while, before morphing into 8s and 12s. Sonically simpler than the previously heard sounds, it's something of a palate cleanser, refocusing us on rhythm (in a fascinating way) while still holding on to vestiges of overtones in the delightful apposition and eventual mix of these two "dry" sounds. This is followed, at 34:10, by what I hear as a kind of fulcrum upon which the piece swivels, again branching out into unexpected (but right-feeling) directions, a rich, wonderful bass drum section, very low and resonant, the initial touch all but unheard, the rhythm found in the throbs.
The second half of MSSFA is even richer, phenomenologically more awe-inspiring than the first. Not to belabor the reader more than I've already done with all this descriptiveness, but for the final four sections, Frey introduces air (recordings of wind sounds? again, it's mysterious) and foliage and also, I think, combines them with previous sources, resulting in some terrifically complex sets of sounds; that is, complex when concentrated on but fairly simple in outline. Again, that dichotomy is utterly delicious as one mentally flits back and forth between appreciating the overall structure, the various substructures, the pure beauty of the sounds, their poetic distribution, the varied durations and rhythms--all of these elements combined in an unfussy manner so that one may either appreciate the whole or the parts, ideally not bothering to distinguish between them, just experiencing the work. I'll just add that the concluding section possesses an otherworldly beauty that's exceedingly rare.
A great, great recording. Thanks to Frey and Hennies.
available from erstdist