Aaron CASSIDY (b.1976)
The Crutch of Memory (2004) [4:13]
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (2008-9) [19:14
I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips (2006) [4:09]
metallic dust (1999) [4:35]
asphyxia (2000) [10:10]
songs only as sad as their listener (2006) [13:10]
Elision Ensemble (Richard Haynes (clarinets and saxophone); Graeme Jennings (violin); Benjamin Marks (trombone): Carl Rosman (voice and bass clarinet); Peter Veale (oboes): Tristam Williams (trumpet) no recording dates of venues given
NEOS 11201 [56:40] 
The presentation of this CD rings every danger signal in the book. The gate sleeve gives three extracts from the scores presented here and there is a further example included in the booklet. None of these scores contain a single indication of the pitch the performer is required to deliver. One of the excerpts comes from a piece entitled “Being itself a catastrophe, the diagram must not create a catastrophe.” The booklet, which only gives two-and-a-half pages of explanation, states that “The axiom of Cassidy’s work is a simple but radical one; heard sounds are uncontrollable traces, marking the points of collision of forces that come from elsewhere en route to somewhere. There is no solid ground.” And no solid basis, either; one cannot imagine that any performing tradition could ever exist in this music without the composer’s presence to supervise every single performance - or if other performances took place, that any one performance could be more valid than any other. The opening piece, The Crutch of Memory, is scored for “solo indeterminate string instrument”. When this much control is surrendered, what is there for the composer to contribute?
The answer is, not much. What we have here are a series of guided improvisations by some very gifted players on what amount to little more than abstract doodles. The Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which the booklet notes inform us “completely disclaim any fealty to pitch”, take their titles from paintings by Francis Bacon. Bacon was essentially a figurative painter who reflected reality through his own personal vision, and the composer here disclaims any contact with reality whatsoever. Any resemblances to a compositional style are a reflection of the avant garde experiments of the Stockhausen era, and they now sound simply very old-fashioned. Most of these sounds we have heard before, and any potential for expression that they may once have possessed has long been exhausted. The last three tracks on the disc proclaim their ‘modernist’ credentials with titles that resolutely avoid the use of capital letters - a literary affectation that is even more passé than the style of the music itself.
Cassidy, born in America, is currently “Coordinator of the MA in New Music” at Huddersfield University’s Centre for Research in New Music having previously taught in colleges in America. One cannot resist the observation that Nicholas Slonimsky’s hilarious Lexicon of Musical Invective, a collection of early vituperative reviews of music subsequently firmly established in the canon, has a great deal to answer for. On his website Cassidy seems to positively revel in his reputation as a musical iconoclast, and quotes with glee from various negative reviews his music has received over the years as if this constitutes a testimonial. But not all new music which receives a negative review is inherently a masterpiece.
Of the players here Peter Veale and Richard Haynes deserve special mention for the violently grotesque sounds they manage to extract from their instruments. They swap between oboe, musette, English horn, and three different members of the clarinet family in the only piece on the disc which involves more than one solo performer. Carl Rosman provides the vocal line in I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips, and we are given an extract from the score in the booklet. We are told that the text comes from Rimbaud (in an “unattributed English translation” - why bother with a translation when not a word is clearly audible?) and Christian Bok. No texts or translations (unattributed or otherwise) are provided so one cannot judge whether Rosman conveys any meaning or not. The booklet tells us that “the actions of the mouth and tongue produce a tangled web of phonemes” and that the pitches are “transitory excerpts of a randomly generated, inaudible ‘text’.” So all the effort of the performers effectively goes for nothing. The extract from the score given in the booklet reveals that Rosman takes a very cavalier attitude not only to pitch - guidance is provided for the singer, although not to the listener, by a computer track - but also to the extremes of dynamic that the composer has indicated. In the opening phrase the sudden moves from fff to mp and back to ff are smoothed out to an extent which in any other music one would call excessive.
Unless you are a listener whose devotion to the Darmstadt school and their followers is unbounded - in which case you will probably have heard all of these sounds, or something very similar, before - this is not a recording that should detain you for long. The works presented span a period of ten years but there is no discernible difference in style between the earliest and the latest - nor would the style of the music, a positive abnegation of the composer’s role, permit this.  

Paul Corfield Godfrey 

For listeners whose devotion to the Darmstadt school and their followers is unbounded.