Concise in length and unique in theme, Transition is a gem of an EP conceived from inquisitive minds courting a noble musical pursuit. Arising out of two culturally significant UK cities, Liverpool and Bristol, it is a suite in four movements that explores the theme of technological innovation, from musical instruments to machines of war.
In today’s device- and algorithm-centric society, thinking of trumpets and violins as ‘technology’ seems rather quaint. But definitively, technology is anything produced by means of engineering or science for a society’s commercial or cultural furtherance. We could apply a similar definition to this record, the result of a desire to not only produce innovative music that ‘slips between the cracks of style and genre’, but also shine spotlights on local talent. Thus, Transition seeks to build recognition of talent within the two communities from which it originates.
Under the auspices of Immix Ensemble brainchild Daniel Thorne, a Liverpool-based sax player and composer, the recording gathers local performers of the bass clarinet, cello, oboe, trumpet and violin, and augments the minimalist classical pieces that result with the growling textures of acclaimed Bristol-based producer, Vessel. These guests are divided up between the four tracks, and the leading instruments of each are used to highlight the state of technology at the time of their invention (musical instruments being unique in having barely advanced over centuries). It may sound obfuscating, but Thorne himself has remarked that this concept was not designed to withstand forensic examination – it was foremost a way to focus and guide the writing of musicians who hadn’t worked together before.
Such focus has yielded compelling and singular results. The opening minute of “What Hath God Wrought?” is a hesitant dialogue between clarinet and sax, each occasionally overlapping the other. This is deliberate, given the piece represents the growth of communication tools (the title being the first telegraphic message ever sent, by Samuel Morse, in 1844). As it develops, other sounds crowd out the main voices, irregular beeps intrude – could they be Morse code? “De Revolutionibus” is the most flowing piece, using droning, discordant layers of violin and electronics to represent the heliocentric orbit of the planets – first theorised by Copernicus in the mid 16th century. The screeching, staccato climax in the sixth minute perhaps conveys the sensation this caused.
From the largest scale to the smallest, “Scope” then bases its cello- and oboe-dominated canvass on instruments of observation. Commencing with a captivatingly ambiguous chord, the piece is a laboured procession of instrumentation and silence, its constant pauses creating an increasingly tense mood as previously steady strides start to falter. The piece segues into the finale, “Battle Cry”, a well developed (anti) ode to the ever-advancing technology of war led by the battlefield’s ever-present companion, the trumpet. The disquiet remains and advances throughout, occasionally making way for the squelch and grind of electronic layers underfoot, while the trumpet grows increasingly squalling. Eventually the brass and strings erupt in a resounding call to arms that marks the EP’s crescendo – one that, fittingly, is riddled with tension.
The release of this beguiling record on Erased Tapes is noteworthy. On the one hand, its combination of modern-day classical musicians with electronic intrusions is well wedded to a discography including Nils Frahm, AWVFTS and Kiasmos; unlike those artists, however, Transition is far from comforting, instead unsettling listeners with deliberately faltering movements exquisitely laced with discord. With the label’s rising prominence, it’s encouraging to hear it still challenging fans with what is promised to be the first of a series of releases with the intriguing Immix Ensemble. (Chris Redfearn)