Elliot Cole ~ Nightflower

Obey it sentence syntax understandable a make must to.

Make any sense? Quickly read, it’s garbage; slowly read – more than once – its meaning probably emerges. In so doing, that meaning is actually jeopardized – turns out a sentence does not necessarily have to obey syntax to make it understandable. (As an editor, I’m now having an existential crisis.)

That’s a perhaps reductive analogue of Elliot Cole’s approach to music – another form of communication with a supposedly equally rigid set of rules. Finding himself yearning for arbitrary sequences of notes on the piano one day, the US composer found himself unable to convey the spirit of pure disorder that he desired. The ineffable power of those rules still guided his choices. His remedy was ambitious: build a computer program to help do it for him. Many artists make music with computers, but few code music. Cole codes music then transposes his choice cuts onto live instruments.

(Always-pioneering 65daysofstatic are also taking an algorithmic approach with their new set.)

From the first movement of four-part “Bloom”, we hear nothing definitively ‘new’ – a scuttling classical guitar repeats a lengthy, rising refrain, while a cello and clarinet offer timbral backing and melodic counterpoint. The scale evolves, the dynamic fluctuates and the accompaniments enter and leave with captivating unexpectedness. In “Bloom II”, percussive hits from the cello propel the music to a bounce, before the sea calms in the third and fourth parts – the opening phrase of the whole piece returning in a more spacious and restful manner.

“Bloom” is a captivating dialogue between three acoustic instruments played at high levels. The dazzling fingers of the guitarist scurry around the fretboard with almost machine-like precision. Almost. In fact, the genesis of this piece IS a machine, and I can do no better than leave you with Cole’s own explanation and demonstration of his process below.

TL;DW: Piano phrases with a defined number of notes are conjured with each line prompt Cole enters, varying by notes, velocity and intervals. Elements of these phrases are defined upfront, but the composer conjures endless combinations with further line prompts that modify tempo, scale and so on.

Cole’s impassioned explanations are full of metaphors as diverse as his program’s note choices, but the image he keeps returning to is that of an overgrown garden, each plant a ‘constellation of notes’. The “Night” composition illuminates this scene in the cold beauty of moonlight. Using the twin voices of crystalline piano and haunting silence, each of its two parts (“Corners” and “Flowers”) are built upon a single phrase, endlessly varied. The repetition gives the phrase meaning, and the space gives it context. The music scales are unknown therefore unsettling, bestowing a fantastical quality to the garden. For every iridescent flower catching the light, a shadow accompanies.

The piano is replaced in the next piece by a xylophone-like voice that turns out to be exactly, yes, “Flowerpot Music”. From these pots sprout exciting flourishes, although the piece seems the lack of same extent of development that the others offer. Closer “Facets” is also the lengthiest track at almost 11 minutes, and the most melodically involved as two (three?) piano tracks entwine – gradually, inexorably. Upon our night wanderings has descended a lethargy, but still we explore – craving that next repetition, that next variation.

Cole’s quest is one of anti-choice. Acknowledging that art is ‘a dialogue between expression and discovery’, he nonetheless eschews himself as creator in favour of the music as adventure. Nightflower is the music of endless discovery. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Available here

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