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.