The title of Constellations, the new album from British composer Jane Antonia Cornish, is a fitting descriptor of the music. The five compositions exude a cosmic feeling, while Cornish’s structures and motifs reflect the human tendency to see patterns in stars. She draws sonic lines between different ideas, painting evocative pictures out of what might otherwise have been random, meaningless arrangements.
Constellations opens with one of its most definitive statements. At the onset of the title track, a repeating languid piano motif rings into the air, creating an atmosphere of stillness and repose. After some subtle harmonic development, the track begins to morph into another animal. Quietly bouncing electronic noises, sparse string passages and airy drones adorn the mix, accelerating the stable piano chords. In traditional definitions of development and progression, little happens over the track’s nearly eight-minute runtime. Yet Cornish is not interested in the traditional. She prefers slow migration to extreme dynamic shifts.
Much of Constellations is built on these same templates: pleasant harmonies, chamber textures, light electronics and a delicate understanding of the importance of space and weight. Small variations lend each track a different focal point. The strings of “Lux” are cluttered and entropic, but the composer employs a heavy piano line in the fashion of “Constellations I.” Where that track takes the grounded music and sends it skyward, in this track the piano brings the high-pitched strings back to Earth.
Since the album oscillates between ends of stability and an ungraspable floating quality, Cornish needs to find new ways to approach these extremes. Silence is used most effectively near the end of “Beyond the Sky,” where the lengthy pauses between blocks of string harmonies add an element of tension to the otherwise sanguine album. The dense rhythms of “Wave Cycles” underlie a beautiful solo violin passage, creating the album’s most up-front moment.
The final track revisits the first. “Constellations II” is built from the same defining principles as its initial iteration (starting with an identical piano figure), but contains a more restful, almost regal nature. “Constellations I” sends listeners into the void, while “Constellations II” brings them home. The composition’s main melody is taken up by the string section, begins to stretch, and eventually dissolves back into solo piano. On an album so dedicated to departures and returns, this final arrival stops all motion, vanishing into silence. Thankfully, Constellations is an album with endless replay value, and the emotional imprint it leaves never fully fades. (Connor Lockie)