Reprise: Eventless Plot, Catherine Lamb

Monday 7 December 2020

They’ve already put out some great stuff this year, but in the last couple of months both Eventless Plot and Catherine Lamb have each released another album. While Eventless Plot’s Another Timbre album Parallel Words showed the trio – Vasilis Liolios, Yiannis Tsirikoglou and Aris Giatas – acting as group composers for a small ensemble, Surfaces places the focus back on them as performers. It’s, basically, percussion: there are electronics at work in there – Max/MSP, that sort of thing – as well as plain old electrical devices, and the sleeve notes assure the listener that there really is an analog modular synth and guitar to be heard somewhere, too. The percussion instruments and associated sounds of small, amplified objects predominate, with the more technically advanced devices being used in a similar percussion-like manner. By ‘percussion-like’, I mean here that the trio takes the approach to percussion described by Vinko Globokar in his essay “Anti-Badabum“, where they treat their instruments “simply to invest each movement, however innocuous it first seems to be, with a meaning.” The technique is akin to James Tenney’s percussion postcard pieces, or John Cage’s later percussion works, alive to the inherent sonic qualities of objects. If there’s a compositional scheme behind this recording, then it’s sufficiently loose to allow for this type of exploration. The title Surfaces describes both their manner of playing and the music they make: passages of sound whose gross attributes appear static while being constantly alive and changing with subtle variations in timbre and texture. Ageing mechanical devices combined with inspired instrumental choices and insidious granular synthesis produce a complex, organic sound. At one critical point, they would appear to leave one piece of equipment running alone, just doing its thing.

Fresh from hearing Catherine Lamb’s vast synthesiser opus wave/forming (astrum), I’m now returned to more familiar turf with her Prisma Interius VII & VIII. The Prisma Interius series is written for live musicians with added harmonic resonance from synthesisers, made by taking sound from outside the performance space as a source for subtractive synthesis. The dynamics and coloration form a kind of harmonic space which contains the musicians inside a rarefied environment, a world that can define its own passing of time. Both pieces here stretch out towards forty minutes without ever feeling long, or even particularly slow. I’ve heard parts of this cycle before, with the same lightness of touch and faint folkish traces, but Prisma Interius VII seems to be the clearest expression in this series yet. Regular collaborator Johnny Chang on solo violin evokes a time and place with a simplicity of melody that’s unobtrusive enough to seem inevitable. The harmonic coloration is faint at first, then grows in your consciousness while never dominating, always an elusive counterpart, a true dialogue de l’ombre double (without Boulez’ crude and distracting manipulations). It has that fusion of form and content as experienced in nature, where you grasp it at once but keep coming back to it differently each time. Prisma Interius VIII expands from solo to the Harmonic Space Orchestra, an all-star ensemble on tenor recorder and low strings. For what it loses in lightness of touch, it gains in a wider pitch spectrum and drama, without stooping to the dramatic. Sometimes, the musicians stop, leaving you to wonder how the silence might reassert itself.

Eventless Plot: Parallel Words

Friday 21 August 2020

Beats me how people find these things, but I’m glad that they do. Eventless Plot is Vasilis Liolios, Yiannis Tsirikoglou and Aris Giatas, a trio of musicians in Thessaloniki. The music they make can be hard to describe. It is typically referred to as ‘group composition’, a term that usually implies homogeneous improvisation or undifferentiated free-for-all, but that’s far from the case here. For starters, their newest release, Parallel Words, sees them working with a small ensemble of flute, clarinet and strings in addition to their own playing on instruments an electronics. This ensemble takes its lead from compositions jointly worked out by the trio; these compositional structures may, or may not, allow them certain degrees of freedom. Such strategies can often be highly reductive, but Eventless Plot work in a more idiosyncratic way, with intriguing results.

The title work had its material composed conventially at the piano and was then developed with instrumentation and electronics dividing the music between them into two independent strands. In its unhurried pace, the piece moves back and forth between tension and release as the strands – flute and piano versus strings, with electronic sounds thickening the plot – drift in and out of synchronisation, at times in conflic and at others in accord. The piece moves with an aleatory fluidity, while also creating a slow-motion contrapunctal call and response, each instrument in turn commenting on the others.

The opening work, Cosmographia, consists of a structure where the overall shape and individual parts were created to give rise to “common melodic slow shifting patterns and acoustic textures”. From one section to the next, each musician is allowed greater or lesser control to vary pacing and elaboration, with alternate tunings and extended techniques introduced both as variation and as material itself. The works on this disc fall into the “soft and slow” school of music but the playing on both these pieces, together with the imaginatively developed compositions, allows for a complexity of texture and detail to match the typically careful focus on timbre. Eventless Plot’s ‘group compositions’ guide the ensemble with a mercurial intelligence that is both human yet beyond individual subjectivity, quietly confounding expectations as each turn creates a new hybrid of sound.

That impersonal, third mind approach can be heard more explicitly in the final work, Conversion, which seems to be closer to some of the group’s previous work. The trio gently strike various percussion instruments and objects, each with contact microphones attached. The amplified vibrations are transformed into strange gong and marimba-like sounds, with bowed cymbals and electronic filtering producing continuous tones. These soft, sustained sounds are augmented and shaded by a viola, played by Stefanos Papadimitriou, who appears on all three pieces. The emphasis on exploration and discovery is at the forefront here, but that same tendency can be heard in the other pieces, applied to compositional principles.