Athens composer Vincent Van Der Bosch has two large things working for him: intelligence and music. He also has one large thing working against him: presentation. Don’t be fooled by the latter; this album is much better than it looks.
A lesson for the digital age: presentation is key. Last year, we summed up the article “How to Get Noticed in 2013” with the words, get them to click. And so we ask these questions of our readers: looking at the cover, do you know what kind of album this is? Is there any way to guess that this is a brilliant modern chamber album that applies music theory to experimentation? There is not. A secondary problem is that the liner notes appeal more to kindred spirits than to the wider public, even though the music has a wider appeal.
Music majors and those interested in music theory will be fascinated by the explorations of intervals, translations, conversations, and ethnic-based sounds. Van Der Bosch is positively Cage-like in his approach, shying neither from dissonance nor chance. But the album is more than just dissertation material. In music, the kiss of death is to call something “interesting”, the term implying that there’s nothing engaging about a work. In order for an album to succeed, it must connect with the listener on a visceral level as well. In short, the listener must like it. And this is the strength of Echoes / Shades / Fragments. Despite its droll cover and disposable title, it’s the rare experimental foray that is also accessible. For every foray into atonalism, there’s a matching melodic snack break.
The specifics of each track are underlined on the artist’s Bandcamp page, so we won’t delve into them here. Suffice it to say that more is going on in each track than is apparent on the surface. Dissonance and compositional complexity are folded into the cake of classicism, producing a pleasing confection that is also packed with vitamins.
Double the length of any other entry, “The World Is One” provides the best example of the composer’s talents. Beginning with an eight-note line, the strings instantly split off into numerous directions, with the tempo their only clear constant. But remember those eight notes ~ they will return numerous times in various permutations. In this piece, Van Der Bosch incorporates influences from a trio of different cultures, integrating them in such a way as to suggest that “the world is one” without the saccharine nature of “We Are the World”. Want something shorter? Try the harpiscord-happy, Fantasia-esque “Transposing Symmetries”, which sounds far more deliberate than it actually is (unless one accepts randomness as deliberation); or the purposefully dark “Hunt of the Shifting Shadows”; or the slower, head-nodding, practically percussive “Drone and a Chance Scale”, the track that sold me on the album in the first place. If Van Der Bosch ever decides to make music for the masses, the necessary shifts will be minor. Just be sure to start with a cover that says something about the music. (Richard Allen)