Michel van der AA (b.
Spaces of Blank (2007) [27:08]
Mask (2006) [13:50]
Imprint (2005) [14:10]
Christianne Stotijn (mezzo: Blank)
Gottfried von der Goltz (violin: Imprint)
the Asko|Schönberg Ensemble/Otto Tausk (Mask)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Ed Spanjaard (Blank)
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (Imprint)
rec. 20 March, 2009, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Netherlands (Blank);
3 July, 2010, Muziekgebouw aan't IJ, Amsterdam, Netherlands (Mask);
3 June, 2006, Muziekgebouw aan't IJ, Amsterdam, Netherlands (Imprint).
DISQUIET MEDIA DQM01 [55:08]
Michel Van der Aa's music is exciting, innovative, evocatively
beautiful and accessible. It's also highly experimental and
often starts from abstract conceptions. Yet on the evidence
of this CD (and the Here Trilogy also reviewed recently
on MusicWeb International) at least it's always highly musical
and engaging. Strangely unassuming, unobtrusive, undemonstrative,
it's also music (and a musical milieu) of real significance
to new music and its wider concerns.
In 2010 the Dutch composer, who is also a multimedia director,
founded the label, Disquiet
Media, to further and promote the many meeting points between
multimedia, music and the arts emphatically in the context of
the most forward-thinking recent developments in technology.
This disc appears on that label. Its production standards, aesthetics
and technical quality are every bit as impressive as Van der
Spaces of Blank is a collection of three recent works.
They all exhibit those characteristics: Van der Aa's is music
about music, his works examine humans' reactions to and perceptions
of music. But this is not impossibly vague or discursive self-indulgence.
Each of the three pieces here looks at and progressively explores
the construction of sound itself. And the ways in which relationships
work between makers, players and listeners. As the clear and
helpful liner-notes put it, 'Van der Aa imperceptibly transforms
acoustic sounds into electronic ones, or manipulates them beyond
recognition by electronic means, thus creating a sound universe
that arouses a permanent state of wonder: what am I hearing,
what is meant by this?'
In practice this means providing some of the answers to the
questions about communication and identity as we listen to others'
(the composer's, the players') conception of music. The confluence
of a Baroque orchestra (the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra in Imprint),
for example, with musical idioms of 2005 is an exciting prospect.
And it's one that fulfils the promise of that examination of
our conception of music well. Imprint carefully opens
up for examination the role of electronics, which transforms
familiar sounds into, not puzzling, but certainly stimulating
ones; the inversion of conventional violin and other instrumental
timbres throughout - not to shock, nor scarcely to provoke.
But to invite us to re-examine how we hear.
Then in the case of Spaces of Blank the invocation of
poetry (by Emily Dickinson, Anne Carson and Rozalie Hirs) works
in such a way that the standard three-movement song-cycle is
almost subverted by the complement of electronics and mechanical
commentary on the soundtrack. Yet not as intrusions, still less
self-conscious, or spurious noise for its own sake.
Van der Aa writes, perhaps, as Stravinsky would write were he
alive today - with a touch more apparent restraint. As if the
earlier composer had internalised and rationalised the phlegmatic
qualities of his more bravura attachments to sound. For
Van der Aa's is a supremely confident style. He sees no need
to shout. Yet he shares Stravinsky's fascination with fragmentation
and sequence; though the later's music is not scored for the
same spectacular impact as was that of the earlier. Van der
Aa impresses by doing much with little.
It's insistent, melodic and concentrated, rather than speculative
or tentative music. There's next to nothing that's spare. The
performers are intent on pulling the most out of the rich sound-worlds;
but never have to squeeze. Van der Aa's is music that yields
its substance readily and without fuss - for all its depths
and variety. These are works for intimate orchestra, soloists
(Christianne Stotijn (mezzo) in Spaces of Blank; Gottfried
von der Goltz (violin) in Imprint) and ensemble, the
Asko|Schönberg in Mask. In all three cases the momentum
never once lapses, the sense of purpose is never abandoned,
however much the music can be considered exploratory.
Spaces of Blank (from 2007) is the longest work on this
CD - at nearly half an hour. Commissioned by the Royal
Concertgebouw Orchestra, it concentrates more on imagination
than exposition - almost as some of Britten's song-cycles do;
anxiety and illusion are not only firmly embedded as subject
matter. They comprise the music's own substance and style. The
soprano shares with her counterparts in the opera, One,
and the Here Trilogy that almost sublime, certainly near-resigned,
self-awareness that allows her to observe her own suffering.
The solitude is detached. Here the question is, Why and How
can someone in this state treat herself as a case for study
and neither pity nor regret? The music is accordingly demonstrative
Mask (2006) lasts almost half as long. It also makes
use of electronics and sound-track. Conflict is present though
not as a dramatic theme begging resolution; rather a model with
which to examine perception, deception even. This requires a
mix of real imagination that's played with as much care as flair.
Success on both counts here.
Imprint (2005) is also nearly a quarter of an hour duration.
It explores the relationship between the almost mechanical regularity
expected of certain facets of Baroque music and the apparently
incongruous spontaneity of instrumental intensity which, in
this case, violinist Gottfried von der Goltz, conveys very well.
This is a CD to approach head-on. Repeated listening reveals
more of substance each time. The playing is uniformly excellent.
If the name is new to you, try and supplement the compelling
music on this CD with a little background. His is a project
that's certainly going places.