The “10” of the title refers to the ten instruments: four violins, two violas, one cello, one vibraphone, one marimba and one piano. Kuba Kapsa Ensemble is the bold new project from Contemporary Noise Sexet’s Kuba Kapsa, and it’s already 40% bigger than its predecessor; any larger and we’d have to call it a small orchestra. But the Polish pianist doesn’t just have largess on his mind; he’s also interested in richness of hue and melodic form. Vol. 1 is a study of symmetry; Vol. 2 will be the opposite.
Not everyone likes repetition. Not everyone likes repetition. See? But Kuba Kapsa Ensemble shifts the scheme, building variations on themes, doubling back, and exposing layers that counterbalance other layers, as if the sheet music could be folded in two, producing a Rorschach blot. (It’s no coincidence that the album clocks in at 38:38.) The word itself has negative connotations: few will ever say, “I love repetitive music!” And yet, repetition is not only the key to memory, but to the pop form. Pop music is by nature repetitive, club music even more so. But the reaction depends on the context; the 12-minute club banger might be a home snoozer. In reverse fashion, the 12-minute “No. 3” would never work in a club, as its nuances can be better appreciated at home.
Now imagine a full-length song in which no notes repeated. Such an experiment might appeal to academics, but not to the common crowd, even to the proud avant-garde. This half of Vantdraught is more interested in when repetition stops being repetitive. Sometimes this is simply a case of a complete stop, followed by variation in volume (the center of “No. 2”) and then a variation in tone; sometimes the track is too short to produce the feeling at all (“No. 4”). “No. 3” is the best experiment here, as it makes the home listener question the point at which the interest begins to wane or subsequently re-awakens. The first appearance of the strings is thrilling, the next less so, but then four strong notes on the piano revive the constitution; when the players are this precise, it doesn’t take much. Soon one begins to realize that while one section of the ensemble is engaged in the repetitions, the others are nudging the plot forward. Returning voices operate as cheerful reminders. At the seven-minute mark, it seems that nine of the players all decide to take a water break at the same time, re-entering at their leisure; like bittersweet lovers, we miss them more after they’ve gone.
Special recognition is due to the artistic team of Kahn & Selesnick, who have produced a number of intriguing slipcased books over the last few decades. The wraparound art (“Brotmorgendämmerung”) provides the impression that something mysterious is going on inside, and well it is. We’re curious to see how Vol. 2 relates, and hope that the wait won’t be long. (Richard Allen)