When does modern composition become drone? When the original elements are sunk into a sea of strings, brass and electronics, as they are on this evocative split release. Each of the artists composes, but in a modern fashion, either by manipulating source elements or by rearranging them to make a different sort of sense. Both pieces are based on recordings of the Antonio Lomatto choir, conducted by Davide Mainetti. The phantoms of these recordings remain, spectral yet insistent, marking their territories with smudges and streaks.
Alberto Boccardi‘s “Drops, Salt, Ask Me Next Life” begins with a breath, a human sound before the tumble into the morass. French horn and cello provide the underpinning: three foghorn notes rest atop an extended chord, referencing the work of Johann Johannsson. Midway through the third minute, the breath returns. As the sound begins to loop, the listener grows disconcerted, realizing that it is not a breath, or at least not a live intake. Louder and louder it grows, mocking the initial assumption. A winch is dragged as electronics join the fray. And that’s only the first movement.
The second movement continues to toy with expectations. A hollow pipe resonance is eventually revealed to be an extended sample of a choral note. The note will later blossom into four, a motif that will continue elsewhere on the album. Double bass and distorted guitar become prime players. At 11:49, it seems as if someone has tripped over the wires. The entire orchestra sinks into silence, giving way to a feedback hum. And for the third and final time, theories are shattered. The hum becomes a tone, the tone leads to a melody, and the melody brings the piece to a satisfying close.
Lawrence English‘s “The Rocks that Tear the Ocean” takes a more recognizable shape, starting and closing with the same choral sample, unadorned. The two halves are titled “Thrones and Domains” and “Seraphim”. While this piece might also be considered one of movements, it’s more accurately described as a single work with mirroring brackets. Between them lies a passage of thick, undulating waves (“Coronach Adrift”) and another of sea-sprung melancholy (“Weathered Hymnary”). The first selection imitates the sound of distant buoys, the second the pinging of a lonely sonar machine.
Boccardi gave English free reign to adjust and re-present the source material. In response, English composed something entirely different yet complementary. By preserving the key thread, English makes the two sides seem like a single work. Congratulations to both for their success in crossing genres by re-positioning sounds. (Richard Allen)