Adrianne Pope (violin) and Linnea Powell (viola) team up to form Aperture Duo, commissioning works from five composers for this release. Pope’s cover art is a perfect representation of the sound, as it exposes the dynamic tension of the music: sometimes dissonant, sometimes consonant, consistently dynamic. If the string breaks or one of the performers loses her grip, both will fall; but neither of these things happen, and the music retains its tension until the end.
Noah Meites’ “Water and Power” is informed by the 1927 migration of Black Americans from Louisiana to California during a time of flood. And yet, perhaps ironically, it was composed during a time of drought. It’s not difficult to see the parable, or to connect the idea with climate crisis. The early phases are gentle, tentative, a slow movement across nearly two thousand miles. The first difficult notes arrive at the four-minute mark, representing the hardship of the journey, the uprooting and uncertainty. Just as swiftly, the timbres of Bebe Carriere’s “Blue Runner” surface and recede, offering counterbalance, an idealized or at least romanticized version of the event. There are differences in the way we remember events, and an even wider gap in the way we report them. The sweet finale seems hopeful, although the repeated word “overflowing” implies that it may not be so.
In contrast, Clara Iannotta’s “Limun” seems like a track at war, as if the women on the cover were struggling for dominance, rather than working together. The impression is intentional, as the piece is meant to convey friction. Again there is a vast applicability to the current political climate. One side yells at the other; the second yells back, arguments growing as atonal as the strings. During certain segments, both performers wait, as though coiled, preparing for a new round of attack.
Five tracks of “Bluets” follow, from composer Derek Tywoniuk. In the liner notes, Ashon Crawley connects these pieces to the opening track by quoting Friedrich Hölderin’s poem “In Lovely Blue” in his description of “Lumen.” The melodic tone of the initial movement arrives as a relief after the battle of the prior piece. Yet the hues are constantly changing. The second movement incorporates plucking, each performer playing off the other. In the third, the techniques split, giving way to a courtly segment; the fourth is agitated and anxious, incorporating false endings; the fifth makes a slow return to relative placidity, setting up the subsequent piece.
There’s great comfort in the title “hold still while the world turns.” Andrew Tholl’s words offer advice in a time of conflict, suggesting meditation and mindfulness. When one is centered, outside agitation seems less disturbing. This is a hard practice to master, and Aperture Duo haven’t made it any easier, given the tone of the prior pieces. The volume rises in the sixth minute, challenging stillness; then the album’s quietest moments arrive. This tug of war ends without a clear winner, although again quietude has the final word.
Caroline Chen’s “My Loves Are In America” is the album’s closer, and the piece most open to interpretation. Just like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”, one might read it as patriotic hymn or indictment, as sorrow or celebration. Folk tunes are folded into the fabric, along with a sense of yearning. The composition comes to a near-complete stop, as if pausing for remembrance or reconsideration. What is America if not a patchwork quilt? This multi-faceted piece has a little for everybody, a message of diversity and ultimate thanksgiving. And then the album is over. Or is it? The unlisted bonus track places a needle on a record, over which Aperture Duo play a familiar Mozart piece, as if to offer an alternate reality, a possible future of consonance and harmony rather than dissonance and friction. The first time through, the piece comes as a surprise; on subsequent plays, it seems essential, an ending for dreamers, a reassurance that such things are still possible, even here, even now. (Richard Allen)