Negatives (CD)

The CD Negatives is found on the NMC label, and apart from ‘negatives’ contains four other works. I often find myself returning to the vivid, viscerally exciting and colorful music on this CD.

‘ne songe plus a fuir’ – ‘Dream no more of fleeing’ (1985-86), for solo cello (amplified): With emphasis on downward force and friction the cellist plays elementary, at times even rude or tormented gestures, and repeats them in a circular, ritualistic manner, but with slight variations each time. Different gestures are introduced as the music progresses. How the composition spins a highly compelling narrative from the circular concatenations of small variations of gestures, and how in the context the physical tension of the playing translates to musical tension, is remarkable. As Richard Toop writes in the liner notes, "with radical pragmatism, Barrett decided to strip the cello of all its ‘tradition’, and treat it simply as four strings with a resonating body, and a certain physical disposition in relation to the player".

‘EARTH’ for trombone and percussion (1987-88): Another visceral narrative unfolds, but unlike in all the other works on this disc, the development of the music seems limited; after a while the music appears to tread water and to ‘babble’. Yet perhaps this is an intentional expression of the basic strategy of the work, which "collapses into alienation . . . a music hovering on the brink of irreversible incoherence or extinction" (Barrett).

‘Another heavenly day’ (1989-90) for e-flat clarinet, electric guitar, double bass, live electronics: The electric guitar features strange yet arresting timbres; at the beginning of the piece its sounds even appear at first to be ‘overtones’ of the double bass. While there is some squealing in high notes by the E-flat clarinet (higher register range than the standard B-flat clarinet), for a good part the instrument plays in its low or lower middle register, producing even some menacing gestures and timbres in conjunction with the sounds of the electric guitar. The interaction between the three instruments is frequently intense, and they produce a power of musical fabric, with some moments of high density, that is astounding and exciting.

‘negatives’ (1988-1993) for 9 players: With 35 minutes duration, this work is the most expansive one on the CD. While there are few figures of swirling or zig-zagging pitch motion here and there, the first part (delta) presents mostly just rhythms. Disparate rhythms on different pitches and timbres (violin, viola, cello, alto flute, sitar, 10-string guitar (both amplified), trombone, double bass, percussion) move alongside and cross each other. The complexity of the proceedings, the subtle shifts of rhythm and the spectrum of colors are remarkable (percussion here is the angklung, an Indonesian bamboo rattle). The second part (colloid-E) that is much more inward concentrated, with prominent roles of 10-string guitar, flute and trombone, presents basic gestures that are ‘spiky’ in pitch motion, with pronounced interval leaps upward, followed by downward movement over one, two or three notes. A complex, subtle and compelling fabric is woven from these basic elements that constantly undergo variations; other elements lend support to the narrative. The third part (archipelago) develops a more assertive continuum of gestural activity that is expressed by a solo instrument, the mandolin; most prominently, strings playing rhythms and glissando fluctuations within small pitch intervals supplement the texture. This organically leads to, in the fourth part (basalt-E), another continuum of gestural activity in a solo instrument, here the trombone. It plays a long, relatively linear thread of about 8 minutes duration, somewhat like a rather free jazz solo, and is countered by sets of contrarian rhythms in strings and percussion. The last part (entstellt) features a dense polyphonic web woven by diverse instruments, featuring again juxtaposition of melodic elements – here fragmentary figures – with just rhythms. It sounds somewhat like a dense shower of dots of color spattered onto a musical canvas. The organic and natural flow of the heterogeneous, complex polyphony is remarkable. The nine sections of this last part are separated by long pauses. The polarity between pure rhythm and melodic gesture, central to the entire work, is summarized in a symbolic manner in the last section. A passage of just rhythm is followed by polyphony of cello and recorder. While the recorder plays a line of wide interval leaps, the cello simultaneously counters with a line of smaller leaps yet of equal impact through emphasis on energetic strokes on the instrument – a colorful statement closing a splendid work.

codex I (2001) for six players "is a structural foundation upon which the performers create their own music: events are timed, but not precisely; the number of instruments for a sound-event are specified, but not which instruments; a (broken) thread of sustained pitches runs through the piece but is typically encrusted with improvised divergences; some parts of the score have completely "gone missing" and inferences are to be made as to what kind of improvisation might appropriately replace them; and so on" (Barrett). In an exciting manner the music starts with long-stretched wind chords that are full of inner life; they are wavy, glissandoing, fluttering. Later on, there are sound points tossed between the players, flurries, fragmentary gestures. Long-stretched tones continue to play an important role; wa-wa effects are created by mutes. The music is full of tension and energy, with timbres of the electric guitar, complementing the winds, to match. They are raspy, growling and howling, with heavy ‘industrial’ accents at times, and at some points squealing of trombone and trumpet amplifies the roughness of timbre. The raw impact of this free-flowing music is exhilarating.

© Albrecht Moritz 2012