The word “Romance” usually makes us think of grand emotional displays, of an intense and powerful relationship to another, a sublime trip towards the heart of the sun. It is the motif of millions of songs both happy and sad, all of them, whether thrilling or depressing, essentially pointing us towards the same message: love is not only wild, it is perhaps wilderness itself. So what does an experimentally-minded album for cello and percussion mean when it bears the name of The Reinvention of Romance?
Sarah Hennies’ work tends to touch upon the rhythms of everyday life, often through a minimalist approach that emphasizes the repetitions, the quietness, the small shifts and changes. Instead of raising the seemingly insignificant moment to a monumental level as composers like Morton Feldman did, however, she leaves them as is, drawing attention to the fact that the textures of our lives are not really guided by loud irruptive events, but by the firm and barely noticeable cadence of the unimportant. It is the marvelous in reverse: in our times, we are taught to exploit the wilderness within, to seek out significance in disruption, to achieve Romance even if it costs someone’s life – in this music, the value of the everyday lies in its ordinary flows and the recurrence of things and events you will not remember, but that have nonetheless transformed you profoundly. Thus, it is not in the emergence of the repressed where meaning comes to be, but in the acknowledgement of the unmemorable, the invisible, of a familiarity so intimate it arouses no thought whatsoever.
As the two instruments interact, always through repetition and never at any point merging into one, the Reinvention of Romance takes place, a slow development (86 minutes, in fact), many times so long it seems like it will peacefully go on forever, but when it changes route – and it inevitably does – it does not take the sublime path, it simply veers slightly off-course. If there was ever a music that sounds like home, this is exactly it, expressing the kind of warmth and tranquility that is solely built through years (or periods that feel like years) of little adjustments in living; the contracts and the spoken agreements between partners are but distant stars in a constellation whose core is the silent balancing between walking speeds, the unconscious pairing of a yawn, the unnoticed parallels in thought patterns. The Romance of passions and clashing forces is replaced by a Romance of impossible, yet banal equilibrium, as in the fantastic album cover, which shows a balloon perilously, and yet in utter stillness, lying upon a bed of sharp nails.
The two instrument sets that represent this could not have been better: dissimilar, from fields that are not exactly in tune with each other, the relative softness of the cello as contrast with the equally relative hardness of percussions. Your ears will never confuse them, and their interactions will always enact a certain distance between them, regardless of how close the tones come to be. They will build up common harmonies, they will go their separate ways, they will intertwine in unexpected manners but always find the necessary silence to carefully pull away. To call this a dance would be too old-Romantic – rather, this is a regular walk, uneventful in the best of ways, and it is a testament of Two-Way Street’s skills as musicians that they make such a difficult piece sound so homely, so common, like remembering a great time with a partner in which you no longer recall any of the details.
It is a paradox that a work so special and interesting is so focused on normalcy, on Romance not as event but as lifelong, everyday process. I have listened to it many times for this review, and yet I only remember being happy while doing so. If you ask me how it sounds I will be unable to respond, and it is not that I do not know, it is just that it feels like life. After all, I do not remember most of the details of my existence either, and yet it is they what constitute who I am today, more than any rupture, which I will anyway resignify time and time again in the telling of my own story. Forget about wilderness, and find solace and nurture in the common, meditative swirls and flows of these two spirits. (David Murrieta Flores)