In the Light of Air ]37:10]
Transitions [10:41]
International Contemporary Ensemble ("ICE")
rec. Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia, 6-9 April 2015
SONO LUMINUS DSL92192 [CD & BD-A: 47:51]

After having seen reviews that heralded Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir's "recent ascendance into the new music scene's upper atmospheres" and all the positive press for her "Aerial" of 2014, I was eager to hear this release and experience what all the excitement was about.

There is a brief note from the composer about the works on this disc. That note is, frankly, not very informative. Perhaps it's best that we listeners take on the task of determining what it is that we hear.

The main work, "In the Light of Air", comprises four attacca movements.

"Luminance" expresses to my ear not light, but the eerie quiet and muted turbulence of a horror movie soundtrack, a couple of minutes before something really bad happens. Dissonant scrapes and glissandi of the strings move things forward. Lonely piano notes join in, then the dull thud of a bass drum. A slow piano chord leads into a swirl of strings that finishes the movement.

"Serenity" is another movement whose character is in tension with its title. The glassy-edged string glissandi continue accompanied by chromatic piano notes, and occasionally (is this the serenity) more consonant interventions by the harp. Grumbles of low strings and percussion emerge in the middle of the movement which continues to be slow and quiet, yet uneasy and restless. In the end, it descends into silence.

"Existence" begins with a deeper level of doom, the cello launching into a plaintive elegy. "Remembrance" switches, with a fuller role for the piano, to a mood that is simply mournful. The themes that the piano brings in are later taken up by the percussion. They work together to develop an interesting dialogue, something that hasn't occurred in the earlier movements.

The standalone work "Transitions" inhabits the same sound-world, but is a touch more experimental, and thus more scattered. It sounds like the musical expression of the readout of scientific instruments: it eludes any emotional connection.

The performers on this disc, the International Contemporary Ensemble (or "ICE"), founded in 2001, is a new music group that splits its activities between New York City and Chicago.

Besides the regular CD version, this is packaged with a Blu-Ray disc that plays "Pure Audio", purportedly a format playable by all Blu-Ray players. Since I do not have such a player I was not able to test this. I believe that most readers would have an SACD player if they had any HD audio device, though perhaps I'm just behind on technology. In any case, no SACD format is included.

There are many interesting sounds and effects to be heard here. For some listeners, that will be sufficient. For me, however, I did not find a coherent musical story, with the partial exception of the single movement "Remembrance", that would cause me to return.

Brian Burtt

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