Strange sounds: Martin Iddon, Eden Lonsdale

Sunday 19 February 2023

A couple of albums here that excel at being distant and eerie, but with substance far deeper than just setting a mood. Another Timbre has released a couple of albums of Martin Iddon’s work before, but Naiads adds a new dimension to understanding his music. A cycle of five chamber compositions composed between 2012 and 2017, Naiads foregrounds aspects of Iddon’s style implied in his previously released recordings, combining the gnarled phrasing with subtleties of perception, the complex with the minimal. The five works have a vegetal quality, organic but in a way that slips between the natural and the constructed, as though diligently cultivated then left to run wild. In the sextet crinaeae and the trio limnades, regular pulses appear, rising up at odds through the flowing sounds before subsiding again. In between, the string trio pegaeae dwells on whispered sounds that rise and fall on sliding pitches. The use of soft attacks, harmonics and multiphonics make these cycles and pulsations sound more primal than mechanical, even when layered into a more complex interplay on potameides. The final piece as heard in this album’s sequence, eleionomae reduces the material to unpitched sounds, faint rasps and ominous tapping. The musicians of the Apartment House ensemble play through all of this world of extended techniques as though such rarefied language comes naturally to them. There appear to be more layers at work in these pieces than on the previous Iddon albums, which is strange as all the compositions date from around the same period. It points to a consistent but varied body of work that needs to be considered on a wider scale.

Eden Lonsdale is a new composer to me and presumably to most people: the oldest piece on his album Clear and Hazy Moons was written when he was still a student, in 2021. His music can be described as spectral, as long as you consider the word in both its meanings. He fits in with a group of other modern composers who have assimilated an understanding of electronic processing of sound and applied it to acoustic instruments, using them in combinations that produce alterations to their usual timbre and acoustic phenomena, rather than use them primarily to differentiate between voices. In the “old” piece Oasis, a muted piano plays a reiterated note that is given resonance and colouring by clarinet, violin, cello, electric guitar and percussion, drawing out unusual overtones for as long as possible before opening out into clouded chords. In Billowing, a slowly descending line repeats, accentuated by small flourishes on solo strings while muted trumpet mixes with flute, saxophone and clarinet to produce high notes that shimmer and beat against the slow phrasing. The same instruments combine in Anatomy of Joy, written last September and only played in the studio so far, which immerses a chorale in a simulated reverberation chamber that recalls glass armonica and reed organ. A notable characteristic in these compositions is the way each one seems about to fade away at any moment, as though ready to conclude, pausing and then continuing, always softer in its hamonic language or diminished in force. Each of these is again played by Apartment House, who instigated the first and last pieces here. The exception is the title work, composed for the new ensemble Rothko Collective. The reverb heard in Clear and Hazy Moons owes something more to its surroundings, as it was recorded by the composer on a handheld device during its dress rehearsal in a church. This may explain why it has an uncanny electronic sound to it, even while the instruments remain unadulterated. Lonsdale’s close chords and small clusters here sound not so much muddied as acoustically synthesised as they bounce off the walls, leaving the microphone to mix winds, strings and percussion.

Quiet endings: Martin Iddon, Andrew McIntosh

Friday 31 December 2021

It’s the quiet end of the year, when it seems everything can wait until later. I’ve got a lot of recordings sitting on my hard drive which I want to discuss, but many of them are new releases by artists I’ve already written about this year: I’ll space them out a bit so readers won’t think I’m trying to push favourites. Before the year ends, I want to get two more albums down. I thought I’d written about Martin Iddon’s last Another Timbre CD, Pneuma, but no; just a passing reference to “the very refined sensibility” of his compositional language while discussing Frank Denyer. His new album Sapindales keeps that softly intense, intimate voice, while speaking more clearly and forthrightly. That may be partly down to Iddon’s own evolution – three of the four pieces here post-date the works on Pneuma – but also to the instrumentation and the performers.

All four feature Heather Roche on various clarinets, with two of them composed for her. The vocal and ensemble works on Pneuma are in contrast to Sapindales‘ focus on the intertwining of three, two, or even one solitary voice. The solo for bass clarinet Ptelea is dervied from Iddon’s vocal quintet hamadryads, itself a reworking of a Josquin motet. The polyphony here is presented as four lines of notes that bend and slide, of which the performer is asked to play as much as possible simultaneously. Roche’s dexterity and studious art in multiphonics turns the piece into a complex, closely argued soliloquy, an introverted character at once measured and impassioned. Iddon’s knack for extracting gnarly details from a reduced musical image comes to the fore here: in contrast to the “new complexity” scholl of composition, his obfucations are perceptual instead of technical. The effect is compounded in Muses, which pairs Roche with soprano Juliet Fraser, creating an involuted braid of clear sounds that ripple over and against each other as they find a path through Iddon’s music. (These pieces all allow for multiple readings of the material and in this case requires a recording of an alternate performance to be played simultaneously.) Tu as navré exchanges material in the bass register between Roche’s bass and contrabass, Anton Lukoszevieze’s cello and James Opstad’s string bass, with soft but heavily-grained playing creating a blurred, buzzy sound that aspires to monody. On the title work, the clarinet’s partner is a field recording Iddon made in a nature reserve early one morning. The material from Ptelea unwinds into slow, spacious phrases that seek out a response from the unassuming environment.

Finally, something quick about a slow piece. Andrew McIntosh’s A Moonbeam Is Just A Filtered Sunbeam is an hour-long work recorded by the composer using violin, viola, piano, bowed piano, bowed wine glasses, slate, field recordings and electronics. There’s no score for it; its composition was made through collage, with a reliance on improvised music. From the opening, the piano sets out as much time as possible between one event and the next. The slowness becomes a framing device to let new material persist, or change without any overt rationale. McIntosh’s use of just intonation in his string playing produces long, droney passages in which either the time is filled with greater complexities of tone and colour, or even less happens than before, depending on the attitude you take while listening. The piece falls into four sections, which aren’t immediately obvious; rather the piece takes unexpected turns into repeated melodic phrases, a slow dance rhythm in percussion, lingers on minor details until they form a shape of their own, creating something naturally immense without straining to be epic.