Sometimes we miss something at ACL. Not too often, and not for long. And we are very strict with our rules. So despite dozens of submissions from 2011, this is only the second we’ve accepted. The reasons: Dust is exceptional, and it hasn’t received much international notice. We’d like to correct that imbalance right now.
The first hint that something special is going on here is the presence of Valerio Tricoli on electronics. (The full title of the release is Dust for three violins, backtape and electronics.) Tricoli’s Pan collaboration with Thomas Ankersmit was one of last year’s finest experimental recordings, and this team-up continues that tradition.
The star of this performance is Antoine Chessex, whose 28 1/2 composition is at turns stark, savage and searing. The best comparison may be to Paul Jebanasam’s Music for the Church of St. John the Baptist, although this piece also contains hints of Daniel Bjarnason’s symphonic work. Those unfamiliar with either artist are asked instead to think of bees: lots of bees, growing more agitated every second as their hive is disturbed, finally teeming forth to surround and sting a company of loggers. Dust is not a benign recording by any stretch; it’s directional, surefooted and powerful, with a sinister undercurrent that puts one’s hair on edge.
In the opening minutes, rumble and rattle are interwoven to form a tapestry of sonic suggestion. Something is approaching, some dark tide or dangerous mood. When the strings fall into a chasm only six minutes in, they leave the impression that they will soon climb their way out, accompanied by a more malevolent force. And climb they do, in restrained fashion, saving their energy for the final push. Few artists are capable of savoring their builds and saving their bombast. In this, Chessex is already a master. Halfway into the piece, one begins to suspect that the amalgamation of pulse, draw and echo may develop into a maelstrom; in time, this suspicion is borne out, but not until a series of teasing rises whets the appetite for a cacophonous culmination. The final pause arrives when only seven minutes remain: long enough to marshal the forces for the grand attack.
Just as the cover art plays tricks on the eyes (move your screen rapidly to view a peculiar effect), the strings play tricks on the ears. This sounds like the work of more than three violins, although only three are listed. In like fashion, the sum of these performances is more than the parts. Dust is a triumph, easily the best music of 2011 that I didn’t hear until 2012. (Richard Allen)