What, exactly, is this album a Cartography of? Even though the title might be relatively straightforward, its implications vary in a manner that makes the simplest answer – of the cello – to seem easily dismissible, or at least difficult to maintain. That conceptual tension, however, opens up a creative space in which the sounds of the cello, pushed to certain extremes and produced by daring, almost experimental approaches, come to extend its ‘voice’ as much as it prods listeners to integrate the player in it. This is not to say that Cartography is a performance piece in which we come to see the embodiment of something usually left abstract, whether in modern or classical composition, but that it does work its way towards a middle point in which you will probably just find yourself asking “how did she do that?”
Imagining Mariel Roberts at work during the four pieces composed especially for her provides a mindset in which even the ambient-like droning of Davíð Brynjar Franzson’s “The Cartography of Time” highlights the material aspects of the cello’s interactions with electronic sounds. The piece roams, swells and dissipates, like an echo sounding aimed at mapping the ocean’s depths, its low-key rumbling a suitable response to the equally meandering loneliness of Cenk Ergün’s “Aman”. The latter tends towards quietude, as if the cello’s sounds were the only things left in the world, drawn out with the careful longing of forlorn sighs. It traces the outline of a certain self, one absorbed into a dark yet peaceful contemplation, but it is not this kind of map that interests me here – it is the relationship between these two pieces and the stridency of the remaining two, “gretchen am spinnrade” and “Spinner”, both of which refer to endless whirling and which are comparably almost noise.
The first, by Eric Wubbels, who also plays the piano in the recording, crashes the cello into an expressive wreck that jabs sounds as if it was percussion; the style resonates with the second, composed by George Lewis, and which might trick the listener into thinking it has more to do with “Aman” and “Cartography of Time” by virtue of its silences and cello-only focus. Nevertheless, “Spinner” does not turn sounds into echoes for mapping something else, it grinds the cello and its player into bursts of activity that skillfully push the listener into ‘how is that a cello sound’ territory. Of course, it also exploits glissandos and gestures that not only seem circular to the ear, but also provoke images of the player’s bow movements drawing half-circles from one side to another, an infinity of sounds at her disposal thanks to the (oft-circular) vibration of the strings. This is what it all comes down to: matter in motion, an instrument and a player interacting with one another, and the consequences of that interaction when it encounters something else, a beautifully resonating sketch-map of music-making.
This Cartography presents no easy answer as to what it is exactly of, but make no mistake, that is a big part of what makes it so interesting to listen to. Dedicate some space and time to it, and you’ll come out of the experience with a slightly (or perhaps even greatly) different perception of an instrument we’re all quite used to hearing. (David Murrieta)