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Montreal: Bozzini Quartet and Wandelweiser Ensemble

Added on by Douglas Farrand.
driving north, June 14th 2013

driving north, June 14th 2013

The Bozzini quartet and the Wandelweiser composers ensemble perform music by Michael Pisaro, Antoine Beuger, Jürg Frey, and Martin Arnold. June 15th 2013, Montreal. 

First ventures north of the border and an afternoon of three concerts, six pieces of music presented in pairs. A comment or two overheard at the end of the day marveled at the diversity of musics this group of composers produce- a long way from the never-really-accurate stereotype of vast swathes of silence occasionally in the liminal presence of a short, soft tone. To marvel at this diversity, however, is not to say that there wasn't a powerful impact made by the presentation of these pieces. Recalling a comment made by Michael Pisaro in early 2012, that his interest lies in what happens during a piece of music rather than how it begins or ends, each of the 6 pieces alone and in combination with each other offered a startling sense of brightness and assemblage, an opening or lifting of pressures and tensions one may well have never known were there otherwise, a series of impossibly nested universes rent open as an equally impossible, bright, mottled quilt. Each patch a different texture- a different grain- and yet clearly, somehow, each piece fits comfortably next to its neighbours- not even really following an underlying logic or thread- such tried and tested spatial metaphors don't quite speak clearly enough to the sense of belonging together.

asleep river bells chords by Michael Pisaro, a piece for an instrumental quartet with electronic playback, suggested two distinctly different projections moving across one another- a soft, instrumental chain of sustained sonorities, and a chaotic montage of field recordings and sine tones. The instrumentalists made their way through a series of chords over 25 minutes or so- an unfolding sonority increasingly revealed, transforming slightly, imperceptibly, over time, as if a shift in natural light. The carriage of the musicians and the pacing of these chords- such a gentle lifting- drew my attention to the pacing or perhaps scansion of the piece (both seem more appropriate words than 'rhythm'), and to the more gestural nature of the electronics part- a car driving by, panning from hard left to hard right, a bird taking off, the flutter of its wings transforming suddenly and shockingly into a complex upper register tone. The sense of acoustic depth created by these two layers became conceptually dynamic when considered in light of the title of the piece- a consideration of the ways in which the music moved through a series of meditations and investigations on each of the words.

If Pisaro's asleep river bells chords drew the ear outwards along lines and perspectives stretching away from the ensemble, an eminently horizontal music, Antoine Beuger's Méditations poétiques sur "quelque chose d'autre" drew the ear back, each performer a pillar, focused within themselves, mulling over a set of materials, reading, re-reading, playing, whistling, re-whistling. A translucent web of soft melodies and spoken french. In comparison with the recently released recording [1] of the same composition, the ensemble here did not shy away from relatively quick iterations of the notated melodies, rendering them at times as melodic fragments, suggesting perhaps a 'silky' quality, a slithery-ness not present in the recorded version (and a beautiful point of connection with Martin Arnold's piece to be performed later in the evening).

spoken word's from Frey's "Landschaft mit Wörten"

spoken word's from Frey's "Landschaft mit Wörten"

While Jürg Frey's Landschaft mit Wörten marked a substantial change in sound and behaviour, a strong connection could be made between the words spoken and printed (a single sheet of paper handed out for this concert featuring the list of words used in the tape part printed in the original german and translated into french [2]) and the function of the title in Michael Pisaro's piece. Both pieces quite distinct investigations of the use of words as beacons illuminating a musical environment, even an environment as minimal as the one conjured up here: Radu Malfatti playing very occasionally, one, two or three note patterns on a muted trombone alongside recorded playback of one or two word spoken statements. Strangely enough I found the words functioning as primary material, each utterance like a small keyhole through which one sees an image, hears a sound. Malfatti's soft trombone tones framed this activity, acted as a counterpoint, something to hold onto, like a recurring hum from a radiator under the window from which you are looking out across this terrain.

A mid-afternoon drop in energy made listening to Pisaro's Interference (6) difficult, I felt unable to follow the music on the level of detail that Pisaro's music so often asks of a listener. I do recall a vague sense, again, of panels drifting across each other (text, melodica, viola, sine tones) but without any strong sense of architecture (not surprising) or clarity of function, particularly regarding the spoken words (somewhat more surprising). All of this said- there was an atmosphere that accumulated over the piece's many similar iterations- an accumulation that uncannily identifies the music as written by Michael Pisaro- a simultaneous inclusiveness and resolve of trajectory that has become so familiar from more recent 'sound-chain' pieces (Fields have Ears 6The Middle of Life... [3]). Listening in difficult circumstances, but still undeniably an integral part of the day's quilt.

After a longer break the final concert was, again, a different affair, most immediately due to the obvious change in performance carriage as a result of the different notational and ensemble paradigms employed here. While the ensemble pieces on the two previous concerts featured ad-hoc groupings of members from both ensembles, these final two pieces featured the Bozzini quartet performing as a quartet, with the addition of Jürg Frey on clarinet for Martin Arnold's piece. My recollections of Arnold'sWaltz Organum are those of a particularly wild piece, a baffling two-part structure reminiscent of Walter Zimmermann's music, but perhaps a little darker, a little more neurotic. The twisting melodic lines, inside of which instruments seemed to be trying to hide from one another, formed knots and creases imbued with something more troubling, more critical, than the charming-and-awkward collisions found in some of Zimmermann's material and rhetoric (recalling Parasit/Paraklet [4] in particular).

Jürg Frey's Streichquartett 3 provided a compelling balance to Martin Arnold's piece, its chorale textures following Arnold's knotted polyphony along the same lines as my horizontal/vertical characterisation of the Pisaro and Beuger pieces earlier in the day. This string quartet struck me as a profoundly mature work- both difficult and clear, unforced and thoroughly complex. A slow uneven pulsing of soft chords- dissonances and consonances resolving in unexpected manners, various suspensions lingering, a passage of descending scales reminiscent of (Unbetitelt) Nr. 6, a passage of distant sonorities reminiscent of Streichquartett 2 [5]. An accomplished essay in simultaneous stasis and motion, "path" and "expanse" [6], a thorough folding and re-folding of a radical tonality and noise.

[1] Ensemble Dedalus performing works by Jürg Frey and Antoine Beuger, released on Potlatch records.
[2] English translation (roughly): grey water, pale blue, stone, place, light, wall, air, colourless clouds, breeze, ramblers, two minds, u, s, w, wind, heart, death, fortune, foliage, smile, a long view
[3] Both Fields have Ears 6 and The Middle of Life (die ganze Zeit) released on Gravity Wave records.
[4] A short piece for clarinet and string quartet- information here.
[5] Both of these pieces available on the Bozzini's recording of Frey's previous work for string quartet, released on the Wandelweiser record label. 
[6] "It may easily be that, at the end of a performance of static music that has remained motionless, the listener is in himself no longer where he started out – just as, conversely, directed, mobile music that lays a path need not always take the listener along on a journey." - Jürg Frey, And On It Went