If you’ve heard Stars of the Lid, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Echo Collective, Jóhann Jóhannsson, or Christina Vantzou, you’ve likely heard members of BOW. This string quintet may be new, but the participants are no strangers to collaboration. Their debut album is split between modern composition and improvisation, although the line that separates them is blurred.
The preliminary taste of BOW was the appearance of “Bryanbaum Variation” this May on the excellent 7K! compilation String Layers. This variation, shorter than the album version, makes a fine introduction to the quintet’s reverent, almost holy style of play. Beginning with a note from the double bass ~ the least expected of the stringed instruments ~ the track proceeds to wander darker places in search of light. The cello, violins and viola wait patiently as the main theme seeps in without fanfare, catching the heart off-guard. They’ve learned from the best, and honor the aforementioned players with their own memorable offerings.
The glissandos that launch the thirteen-minute “Edda” expose the quintet’s improvisational side. The introduction seems like an intentional tuneup, an expulsion of timbres producing the light chaos from which order will emerge. By the end of Side A, nature’s fury has been tamed like the cloud of the cover art. In an additional inversion, the players appear as shadows while the cloud becomes a luminary.
Irony is implied whenever a musical piece is named “Silence;” this is how the set draws to an end. As the closing composition, the track rises from silence, but also leads the listener to silence, setting the conditions for contemplation. Shadow cannot exist without light, nor can light refuse to produce shadow. By closing in a koan, the quintet reflects the conundrum of a generation so sure someone must be right that they miss the conversation. The quintet delves deeper in hopes of emerging stronger, not from certainty but from the acceptance of uncertainty. (Richard Allen)