The logic of dreams turns the unfamiliar familiar. When dreaming about strange scenes and places, they often seem strangely mundane, as if you’d experienced them before during waking hours. By titling their debut album I had a dream about this place, the Montreal-based ensemble NO HAY BANDA seem to be evoking the hazy strangeness that lingering memories of dreams can invoke, the feeling that outside forces are subtly guiding your nighttime ramblings.
A collection of pieces by a relatively young, relatively Canadian cohort of composers whose work tends towards the electronic, the interdisciplinary, and the avant-garde, I had a dream about this place aims to showcase the artistic niche that have made NO HAY BANDA a mainstay within the North American experimental scene. From unsettlingly theatrical works like to Steven Takasugi’s Sideshow and Jennifer Walshe’s XXX_LIVE_NUDE_GIRLS!!! to austere explorations of sound and silence like Émilie Girard-Charest’s Épanchements, the group describes themselves as committed to a body of music “born of a generation that sees no barriers between musical genres, theatre, performative arts and contemporary culture.”
Each of the four pieces which make-up I had a dream about this place take a stab at what has now become a familiar grouping in contemporary composition: chamber ensemble and electronics. Anthony Tan’s An Overall Augmented Sense of Well-being kicks things off on a high-note, beginning with a wall of rumbling electronics, droning violin, and metallic percussion. Deep, swooping bass tones cause ripples across the constantly droning texture, while flurries of violin, piano, and saxophone provide further disruptions. Still, some of the half-hour long piece’s most striking moments come in a gentler form, when static piano chords and slow-beating drums make a slight break in the clouds.
Sabrina Schroeder’s Rubber Houses is a shorter and quieter work full of rustling, breathy extended techniques. Leaning heavily on its electronics and percussion, the piano, violin, and saxophone largely provide occasional comment in an elegant push and pull of unexpected timbres. By way of contrast, Andrea Young’s A Moment or Two of Panic is a relatively typical contemporary chamber work for voice and small ensemble, one that never quite finds its moments to breath. With unimpressive lyrics that rely on impressionistic, quasi-mysterious statements or questions and an instrumental pallet that does little to vary the mood or pacing for a lengthy 32-minute run time, the piece’s slightly more raucous electronics provide much its interest.
The best piece of the bunch, Mauricio Pauly’s The Difference is the Buildings Between Us, most closely approaches the enigmatic, dreamlike quality suggested by the album’s title. Stops and starts, unsettling moments of quiet, inexplicable rattling and rustling, unexpected turns — this is the uncanny world of the familiar and the unfamiliar that NO HAY BANDA are attempting to channel. As in Rubber Houses, electronics and percussion take center stage, yet the subtle use of extended techniques among the rest of the ensemble creates a blend between the electronic and acoustic that is wonderfully difficult to untangle.
Although NO HAY BANDA has largely made a name for themselves thus far through more theatrical pieces, I had a dream about this place shows that they are fully capable of commissioning and performing compelling work for the floating world of pure audio. Occasional low-lights aside, the ensemble’s eclectic vision of the artistic future is on full display here, a prescient dream that may soon be coming true.