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Clara IANNOTTA (b. 1983)
dead wasps in the jam-jar (iii) (2017/rev. 2018) [12:22]
You crawl over seas of granite (2019/20) [16:00]
A Failed Entertainment (2013) [16:25]
Earthing - dead wasps (obituary) (2019) [13:00]
Jack Quartet
rec. 13-15 January 2020, Haus des Rundfunks Berlin, Saal 3/Traumton Studio, Berlin.
WERGO WER64332 [57:47]

This is one of those releases which will go one way or another: incomprehension and misunderstanding, or assimilation and appreciation. Clara Iannotta’s string quartets are beyond unconventional, using the instruments to create soundworlds that have as much to do with Haydn as astronomy has to do with astrology. This is by no means necessarily a negative thing, but requires some effort from the listener.

I have a suspicion of art that requires lots of explanation, but in this case there are a few lines in the booklet note that provide a useful handle on the sounds you will encounter. The text opens with the words of Jacques Picard as he and Don Walsh dove underwater to a depth of 10.916 metres back in 1960. Three of these quartets “draw their compositional ideas from a vision of this underwater cosmos and the tiny animals that let their phosphorescent organs play in the nethermost depths.” Once again, some of the technical and descriptive content is best read in the booklet: “coarse, growling and scratching noises intermingle with pre-recorded sine waves” in dead wasps in the jam-jar (iii); “Paperclips are attached to the strings of the instruments between the fingerboard and the bridge… [and] while the left hand plays harmonic glissandos, the right hand draws the bow between the paperclips with varying amounts of friction.”

Each piece has had its own intensive research done by the composer to achieve the sounds she seeks, and as a result each work creates its own sonic world - related in terms of approach and certain aspects of texture, but nevertheless distinct. You crawl over seas of granite uses detuned strings to create unearthly lows and a disturbing resonant slackness which delivers its own organic associations. A Failed Entertainment uses blocks of styrofoam for some of its squeeks; also introducing table bells, bird whistles and other percussion instruments to punctuate, heighten and enhance the sonorities produced by the strings. Earthing - dead wasps (obituary) brings us back to material and sounds from dead wasps in the jam jar (iii), also using electro-acoustic transducers that work directly against the soundboards of the instruments.

This is all ‘noise’ of one kind or another, but this is after all what music is - sounds or noise, consonance or dissonance, organised over time. Clara Iannotta’s sounds have a dramatic presence all of their own, but they explore the edges of comprehension in musical terms. She says, “I don’t want to hide or prettify things any more. I insist on the energy itself, not on what it reflects.” I can quite understand if this isn’t the kind of sound you want over your loudspeakers, but if you are intrigued by the idea of inner exploration and a kind of surreal and cerebral intensity then you might find something a bit special here. I certainly prefer the idea of ‘drawing deeper and deeper towards the seafloor’ to sending the players of your quartet up in four noisy helicopters.

Dominy Clements
Performers: Christopher Otte, Austin Wulliman (violins), John Pickford (viola), Jay Campvell (cello) 

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