Friday, September 12, 2014

Jürg Frey/Radu Malfatti - II (Erstwhile)

Two discs, the first with a work by Malfatti ("shoguu"), the second containing one from Frey ("instruments, field recordings, counterpoints").

"shoguu" translates into "dealing with" and I could deal (and have, actually, dealt) with the piece for days. Clarinet and trombone, in some ways not entirely dissimilar to most of Malfatti's pieces of recent years in that long, quiet tones are offered suspended in space, sometimes touching or overlapping, but also extending his ambit. The nature of the placement, the clarity of the tones (sometimes with a slight burr on the reed, also the odd Malfattian clink of fingernail against bell, all so finely recorded by Christoph Amann), the almost too large to discern, organic structure--these all conspire to form a kind of gentle monumentality, an open vastness. The general contrast of the tones is wonderful in and of itself as is the poetry of the subtle shifts in pitch and the irregularities of placement. The "gaps" themselves are alive with soft breaths and moist lip movements. I get the sense of a hyperextended song as though, were the music to be compressed, a somber melody would more clearly emerge. As is, it seems to be the task of the listener to retain this long string of notes and construct one for him or herself. And that's supremely enjoyable. I'm not sure what else to say; like a lengthy Feldman piece, "shoguu" defies encapsulation. Only to say that I've listened numerous times, have loved every occasion and, thus far, have always found relationships I hadn't heard or understood on previous listens, something I expect to continue indefinitely. A fantastic work, something to be dealt with.

The Frey composition inhabits a very different sound world and is equally wondrous. Even at his sparsest, Frey always seems to have a subtle Romantic quality to his music (as opposed, deliciously, to Malfatti's rigor) and that sense of longing and gentle melancholy seep through the blurred field recordings here, the trombone (very deep) and clarinet imparting a brooding, pensive note. The acoustic instruments bleed through the recordings which, on their own, seem to go through stages of feedback, obscuring the boundaries of those contributions. It's possible that vehicular sounds are there, with wind through trees or an overall urban hum, but all the elements merge so well, one swiftly puts concern over differentiation aside. Echoing bangs, sounding as though emanating from a large interior space, are mirrored, in an oddly touching manner, by what almost becomes a melody from the horns about 18 minutes in; it's a stunning moment. That moment lingers for quite a while, amidst foggy clangs and, eventually, near-at-hand chirps. The horn tones are like warm extensions of the general hum, as though the multitude of natural frequencies coalesced into this sonic breeze, floating through the landscape knowingly and sympathetically. About 42 minutes in, the character changes somewhat, Malfatti inserting a mute, the surrounding sounds thinning out, becoming shopping-mallish (with drips), a kind of cymbal wash seeming to appear; it's disjunctive but, for me, arriving at precisely the right time, an elbow nudge acknowledging other areas, perhaps less accommodating. Foghorns and buoys. This drift toward the conclusion, attenuated, not nearly as lush as heard at the beginning, is bracing, an astringent tonic offered instead of steady state. I love it.

A fine, fine release, certainly among my top favorites of the year.


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