Thrainn Hjalmarsson - Influence of Buildings on Musical Tone (Carrier)
A very exciting release from a composer new to me, Thrainn Hjalmarsson, from Iceland. Five pieces for varying ensembles (and solo), all rather complex and tough to describe. The title piece, performed by the Caput Ensemble (violin, viola, cello, bass, two percussion) skitters and dances in a light but gritty manner, pausing some fairly intense activity for soft, grainy, whistling observations by the strings, punctuated by breathy exhalations--eerie and precisely limned. 'Grisaille' finds the Icelandic Flute Ensemble (a dozen of them) navigating through a slowly swirling, misty world, the flutes creating gorgeous, otherworldly harmonies, breathed in and out in (very) rough unison, gradually splitting into higher and lower sections, gently seesawing. True to its title (a painting in gray tones), it remains in a single area and explores it wonderfully, a compelling work. Violist Krista Thora Haraldsdóttir is the solo performer on 'Persona', all ultra-high whispers, indeed often sounding flutelike. Careful and delicate, but sinewy. Ensemble Adpater, a quartet with flute, clarinet, harp and percussion, lopes and hops through 'Mise en Scène', valves softly popping, pausing for a quiet, long flute tone, percolating along again, encountering blurry clusters of backward-sounding phrases. Again, mysterious and very enticing, evoking image after image. Finally, my personal favorite, 'Lucid/Opaque', played by Nordic Affect, a violin/viola/cello trio. In and out breath is once more the structure, a three pulse phrase, very simple (but massive complex within the chords), low-high-low, iterated over and over with small shifts in individual duration, tone and attack throughout and occasionally punctuated by brief puffs. A sleeping dragon? Hjalmarsson again stays within a narrow territory but augments it and works it to a marvelous degree, every addition or new angle perfectly apt. It's an immensely moving piece.
I'm very happy to have heard this, recommend it highly and can't wait to hear more (curious about the Carrier label as a whole, as well)
Jérôme Noetinger/Robert Piotrowicz/Anna Zaradny - CRACKFINDER (Musica Genera)
An LP issue by this powerful trio. As one might expect, rich, harsh electronics are the order of the day but very finely focussed, like some otherworldly, arcane machine. More swirling than harsh, betted by the unexpected wielding of an alto saxophone by Zaradny amidst the dense electronics. A good deal of structure underlying the chaos, with a fine break several minutes from the end of Side One ('The One Who Searches for Cracks') that leads to a thrilling conclusion. The other side, 'Universal Atlas of Evidence' uses a bending, elastic substrate to support more alto excursions and dozens of other bits and pieces besides. It's a bit more "spacey", perhaps a little less visceral than the previous track, but rewarding. It, too, has a pause some four minutes from its conclusion, whereupon it veers into darker, more anxious and warped territory. Good work from all involved.
Espen Lund - Blow.Amplifier (no label)
Three excursions (available for download purchase) from Norwegian trumpeter Lund. When the title track begins, we're in reasonably familiar territory, Lund ably playing in the manner of any number of post-Bowie trumpeters. But soon there's a heavy flurry of electronics, aggressive and semi-droney, Lund seemingly triggering some sounds, playing through others, those waves changing character to clanging reverberations. It splinters out from there, becoming denser and more propulsive, the "normal" trumpet seeking to be heard through the walls of noise. Well done. 'White Mass' is a small, involuted knot of gurgling noise, a strong balance of cohesion and random strands, growing quite harsh toward the end. 'The Great Equalizer' begins with jagged echoes before lurching into what an innocent listener might guess is a fuzz-laden, slow guitar intro to a death metal dirge ("noise" on this track is supplied by Bjørn Ognøy). The overt rockish references I could likely do without but Lund handles them quite well, spreading the sound like dark paste over almost 15 minutes, grinding to a fairly spectacular conclusion. Good, exploratory work.
Lund's bandcamp site
The single 26 1/2 minute piece begins with high-pitched, iterative electronics, kind of related to the sort of sounds you might hear, or imagine hearing, when two communications systems are interacting, except multiply layered. Alien and a bit disorienting. There's a pulse but the patterns seem ever so slightly staggered, gradually overlapping and muddying the rhythm. Sometimes the music reminded me of Terry Riley's 'In C', for a severely limited range of instruments (Reich's glockenspiels come to mind as well). A very low, very quiet and subtly quavering hum emerges as the primary tones continue to, very slowly, blur and mingle, but then recedes. The elements coalesce into a smooth but fluctuating hum, then cease. A fine, concise, no-nonsense piece of work.