Just There: Aaron Einbond, Luis Fernando Amaya

Sunday 1 October 2023

Presque rien could be the watchword for Aaron Einbond’s compositional method. Each of the four pieces on his All That Dust album Cosmologies lurk in the background almost imperceptibly, to the point you just about forget they’re there, catching you unaware when they remind you of their presence. Never exactly silent, each piece maintains constant activity that may or may not produce sound. Beginning the album with Xylography, cellist Séverine Ballon is kept occupied with various techniques that appear to take place around her instrument as much as upon it, with stray, accidental sounds slowly coalescing into a frail, fragmented substance. The role of electronics in this piece is kept obscure, using close amplification to make each miniscule movement just about audible. Ballon’s intense concentration is matched by her accompanying ensemble in Graphology, where solo cello is joined by bass flute and clarinet, violin and percussion to produce a piece with no immediate difference in texture from the solo work. Aaron Holloway-Nahum leads the Riot Ensemble in an essay of supreme restraint, producing the smallest possible swatches of attenuated sounds in their most muted colours to build up a piece that exists without ever quite substantiating into a definable form. In retrospect, the most curious part is the way the musicians hold everything in poise without discenible momentum, yet never lapsing into torpor. The techniques here resemble Lachenmann in extremis, but the usual strained effect heard in music of this type is largely absent. That point becomes clearer in the following two pieces, Cosmologies and Cosmologies III. The latter piece is a Ferrari-like soundscape of collaged field recordings, occasionally punctuated without warning by string piano; the former takes the same recorded material and overlays live amplified piano by Alvise Sinivia. Again, the instrument is used less as a trope for foreground material layered over the tape, but mostly as a way of complicating the timbres, recasting naturally observable sounds into something indefinable. It all offers a disturbing perspective on the last of listening. Incidentally, the CD version of the album merges each of the paired works into compound compositions.

Luis Fernando Amaya has some related musical concerns to Einbond, inasmuch as he is seeking out new ways of creating new sonic materials for his art. The emphasis here is more on that process of finding those sounds and the contexts in which to apply them, placing the material more conspicuously on display. His album Cortahojas (released on Protomaterial) contains six compositions which apply a variety of means – extended techniques, additional devices, electronic processing – to ends that test the limits of what is considered acceptable in polite chamber music discourse. The title work, a duet for prepared violin and bassoon, is perhaps the most conventional work here, which should tip you off to how unusual some of the other pieces get. William Overcash makes his muted strings pair with Ben Roidl-Ward’s multiphonics to fit together a piece made out of fractured harmonics in lieu of pitch material. Pianist Jonathan Hannau uses e-bows to add ominous harmonic auras to the delicately spiky Pregunta no.2: Cóndor. Rubén Bañuelos and Mikołaj Rytowski perform the percussion duet guerrilla de dientes entre los árboles, in which Amaya accretes splayed clusters of pitched and half-pitched sounds into a tense standoff between the two musicians. Enjoyable percussion pieces for multiple performers are more rare than you’d think, so this is a wise choice to lead off a long album. Into the stranger terrain, comentarios inaudibles for solo cello features Isidora Nojkovic, augmented by electronics that add a blurred shadow to her playing, at once following and commenting while also threatening to merge into a composite whole. At the most extreme, Bestiario: cuatro takes a solo violinist (Theo Espy) and attaches speakers to him to confuse the localisation of sound, then agressively filters and gates the playing to produce distempered noise that reduces the playing of the violin to pure gesture, with pitch and decay crushed to the minimum. The shadowy aspects of Amaya’s reappear in the suite que del mar saliste for guitar and electronics. For this piece, Amaya feeds Ruben Mattia Santorsa’s acoustic guitar through transducers to produce a remote, watery sound. Santorsa’s gentle, reflective playing is alternately drowned in sustained overtones, worn smooth by rolling off the attacks, or has its frequency range smothered to create different perspectives of a still, submmerged world.