Returning again: Eventless Plot, Magnus Granberg

Tuesday 31 January 2023

I hear lots of nice stuff and I appreciate it. I thought you were supposed to get less tolerant as time went by, but attempting to listen critically just makes me find things to appreciate about craft even if I doubt there’s any point to what I’m hearing. There isn’t a particular point to art, anyway. I don’t expect, or really want, to be shocked by art, but at times I start to wonder if I’ve reached a state where I hear everything in the same way. Luckily the recent albums by Eventless Plot and Magnus Granberg have gently nudged me out of that complacency again. The Greek group composition ensemble Eventless Plot have recorded two contrasting pieces both titled Memory Loss. In the first, the trio is joined by sometime collaborator Chris Cundy on bass clarinet, who holds sustained pitches against analog synth tones over a backdrop of occasional psaltery and other analog electronics, with some digital processing. What’s most striking about this piece is not just the clear, unadulterated use of pitch, but that it’s keyed to delicate but purposeful activity, in a way which makes you realise how much recent hushed, low-level unnotated music has been getting fussy and mannered in its obsession with small details. The second piece is for the trio alone (Vasilis Liolios, Aris Giatas and Yiannis Tsirikoglou) and the main instrument is piano, replacing the sustained pitches with a fragile continuity that eventually breaks up rather than resolve or fade away.

Always a good thing when new music gets a second recording so soon after the first; or in this case, the other way around. Last year Another Timbre released a 2021 recording of Magnus Granberg’s How Lonely Sits the City? and now the Japanese Meenna label has issued a performance from 2020. The earlier version is for quartet only (Eva Lindal on violin, Leo Svensson Sander, cello and Stina Hellberg Agback on harp around Granberg’s usual prepared piano), without the electronics or percussion of the Another Timbre seven-piece version. Of the latter, I wrote that it had “the sparsest texture I’ve yet heard in Granberg’s compositions, even more so than in his quartet Nattens skogar…. while Granberg added parts for a larger ensemble, the prevailing mood remained small and sparse, with each musician adding to the overall work as sparingly as possible, making each individual sound count.” Hearing it now in its original form, it’s curious how the texture is even more open, while sounding less wintry or alienating. The combination of instruments is a little warmer, even as the group’s playing is just as faint and attenuated (save the cellist, all returned for the later recording). What’s most intriguing here is the way the work falls open, like a loosened knot, revealing details in its construction, showing how Granberg’s techniques change over the course of a piece to produce different interplays of sound. At times, the music falls into near silence as violin and piano tentatively exchange single notes, like a Cage piece in times when he was at his most reticent.

Reinier Van Houdt: drift nowhere past / the adventure of sleep

Saturday 28 January 2023

It took a long time to come around to this one. Have we all had enough of Lockdown Art yet? I think I wanted to move on, and this thing from Reinier Van Houdt just seemed too much. Two hours long, ten pieces, needs editing, too indulgent, too slick, too simple. As time went by these complaints started to contradict each other in my head and those nagging contradictions started to do the work that the apparently facile quality of the soundscapes concealed. drift nowhere past was recorded in instalments over six months, turning in an aural report on the 22nd of each month during the uncertain languors at the start of the pandemic. The indulgence is tempered by the obligation, the loose structure of each episode an effect of the enforced improvisatory approach. Van Houdt lingers over each of the redolent fragments he has collected, letting each collage play itself out where he could have edited more tightly. Heard in retrospect, it captures those early months of Covid admirably, contemplating what has been lost and what may never return, with no certainty of where the course of events is leading. It presents a series of soundscapes in which events pass by with little recollection of details beyong the overall impression, blurring into a dreamlike passage of time.

The last three years seem to have passed for most people as a void and for me, personally, the past month has gone by as a half-remembered dream. Before this collection was released the elsewhere label asked Van Houdt to make a companion piece, for Covid’s second wave. the adventure of sleep collects four pieces made of more brittle materials, but worked into layers where events are effaced even further than before. Distant sounds and echoes linger as the predominant theme here, steady rhythms instill a suitable torpor that seems to stretch out beyond the work’s thirty-five minutes, evoking the same sort of crowded emptiness that closes in on the mind as it slowly forgets consciousness.

Routines: Rasten & Dupleix, Bondi & d’incise, Astasie-abasie

Thursday 12 January 2023

There are some pieces that act like a microcosm of dealing with new music – composing it, playing it, listening to it – in the whole: observed from a distance, these activities boil down to a matter of repetition, reiteration, routine. In this situation, the importance of the act of concentration is heightened, becoming almost an aesthetic goal in itself. When listening to such music, the question is whether composer, performer and audience can all find a comparable level of concentration.

Routine differs from repetition, in that a repeated set of actions can lead to changes in those actions, as they adapt to new possibilities observed from the results. Fredrik Rasten and Léo Dupleix’s Delve II takes a composition by Rasten made from reiterated elements, expanded over thirty-eight minutes as a duet for 12-string acoustic guitar and spinet. Short gestures are repeated in near-unison, producing a composite instrument in which the features and contents are in a slow but unceasing flux. The arepggiated chords are not so much elaborated – or even extended, in the manner of an old-school minimal composer – as they are pursued into new articulations, as though allowing some natural process of musician’s curiosity to take its course. Chords are slowly pulled apart and reassembled, with new aspects casually introduced or removed, all at a seemingly steady, breath-like pace. The effect is entrancing.

Ian Andrews has made two albums now under the name Astasie-abasie. The first one, Molecular Gamelan, didn’t interest me too much as it was all too much like sound sculpture and wasn’t working as foreground. The new one, Elliptical Gamelan, is much better. As before, the pieces are all made from amplified metal objects motivated by electrical devices, so loops and cycling sounds are the base material here. Where Elliptical Gamelan succeeds is in the details, with the sounds more intrisically complex so that they are less recognisable with each repetition, overlaying each other in patterns that may be inferred but cannot be identified rhythmically. Each of the ten short pieces here evolve as they progress, giving each one a distinct sound and form, making them work as music instead of just exercises in instrument-building. One of us was paying closer attention this time.

The excessive focus on instruments has a detrimental effect on Cyril Bondi and d’incise’s latest collaboration, Le secret. Bondi made an extensive investigation into Swiss Alpenglocken before the two musicians were let loose on a large collection of bells. The focus here is on the differences in tone and timbre of bells, as they’re played in slow, antiphonal permutations, to the exclusion of almost all other considerations. Unless you want to invest it with your own significance, the arrangements here seem overly reverential and dry. Perversely, d’incise’s solo album καῦμα (kaûma) is all electronic but feels more lively and capricious, even as it tries to maintain a steady state of repeated actions. Synthesiser is mixed with analogue filters and reverb as well as digital processing, creating a fuzzy, saturated set of small riffs that perpetually drift off course. The material is simple and unassuming, but in d’incise’s renderings they become tantalisingly indistinct. It recalls the fin de siècle interest in glitchcore and lowercase, returning to follow up on where those two subgenres had left off before fully delivering on their promises.