When Bis announced the release of this CD, label head Robert von Bahr confessed, in the email he sent to customers presenting it, that he found it to be difficult music. With this in mind, I was a bit sceptical when I received the CD from MusicWeb International. Bis has a number of recordings that could qualify as “difficult”, by composers such as Ligeti, Pettersson and Sorabji. Could this recording be more “difficult” than the works of those composers?
I listened to this disc with interest, the first time, waiting for the difficult bits. I was expecting some sort of neo-Ivesian/Cowellesque recording with tone clusters, prepared piano and micro-tonal tunings. Well, one man’s “difficult” is another man’s melodic and I found these works to be quite interesting. I would say that it’s not easy music to get into but I would hesitate to call it “difficult”.
This music is certainly quirky. The first work, The Remains of the Light III
for piano and computer, uses sounds processed with a ring modulator, which makes the notes, at time, sound as though they were twisted and then played underwater. Aside from the odd sounds that come and go – the computer is not “playing” all the time – this is a fairly melodic, modern piano piece. There are hints of Takemitsu, to whom this piece was an homage, as well as Debussy and the minimalists but it’s not an atonal, serialist work ... far from it.
The second piece, A Particle of Light
, is for piano and Nambu bell. This is the kind of hanging bell found in a wind chime. I have to say that I barely hear the Nambu bell. The liner-notes say that “the work begins with the mysterious sound of the Nambu bell enveloping the musical sound of the piano.” In fact, it is all but unnoticeable, being at a frequency that my age renders hard to capture. Only by turning the volume up very loud did I clearly hear its soft sound. Nevertheless, this is a mysterious piece, alternating between light and thunder, providing an interesting dialogue through conflicting rhythms between the left and right hands.
A Particle of Water
, which follows, is for piano and Myochin hibashi, or metal chopsticks. This piece attempts to recreate the famous haiku by Bashō:
The ancient pond
A frog leaps in
The sound of the water
The work follows on the previous piece, starting out with similar melodic and rhythmic structures. The piano wanders, as if in search of a melody, moving up and down the keyboard, reaching the highest notes, then starting again. Attempting to follow the movement of the frog’s ripples in the pond, the pianist plays long, aqueous runs on the keyboard, often with the left and right hands flowing in opposite directions. This piece is, in some ways, less musical than its predecessor, ending up being mostly those fast runs along the keyboard. The tone of the music changes late in the work, becoming angry and aggressive, more Beethovenian, with many raucous runs up and down the keyboard. At times, the pianist can be heard playing simultaneously in the lowest and highest registers. While I do hear the chopsticks I find that they don't add much to the music.
Next is A Particle of Rainbow
for piano and Kabuki Orgel, which is a set of five metal bowls on a wooden base. Continuing from the previous piece’s combination of light and aggressive figures, this work has more of a chordal structure behind the melodies, and sounds a bit more romantic. It continues the runs up and down the keyboard, but now integrated into more classical-sounding motifs.
for piano, toy piano and computer reprises the ring modulator from the first piece, and follows on with similar forms and motifs. I find the ring modulator to be annoying enough to want to skip this track, and the first, and just focus on the three “Particle” pieces, which work well together as a unit. Lunar Rainbow
just contains aimless runs up and down the keyboard with little structure.
Only one of the works, the short prelude at the end of the disc, is described as “for piano”. Prelude for Angel
begins with a slow, haunting tone in a minor key, somewhat like music by Harold Budd. Its simple melody sports a brief crescendo, as it is invaded by chromaticism, then it returns to the melancholic opening melody. It is an attractive piece, somewhat different from the rest of the album.
All in all, I wouldn’t call this a “difficult” recording, but I would say that it’s not for everyone. If you leave out the two pieces with the ring modulator, there is still a very interesting three-piece work in the middle, with an attractive closing prelude. As a fan of Takemitsu, I certainly detect the influence of this composer, and I find that Yoshiro Kanno has much to say for himself. I look forward to hearing more music by this composer.
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog Kirkville.