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I’ve been an admirer of Vinko Globokar’s music for many years now, enjoying its theatricality, sense of humour and supreme ease of technical mastery hidden under a superficial presentation of almost primitivist rough edges. His booklet notes for this recording are a model of conciseness, introducing an association of Kaleidoskop im Nebel for performance at the Bergen Festival with a meeting of that festival’s director Alwynne Pritchard and the subsequent composition for her of Soprano Tapaguese Sur Ache de Noë.
These works are presented in reverse chronological order however, so we begin with Les Soliloques décortiqués. Globokar’s description of this work’s concept gives no indication of its content or effect, but it is written for 16 musicians, and in which “each instrument is a soloist for 90 seconds, time dedicated for him or her to experiment with instrumental techniques that I consider rather ‘daring’. Meanwhile, the other 15 instrumentalists try to put the soloist’s ‘discoveries’ on their own instrument.” Listening before this description might lead you to an entirely different conclusion, as the effect is entirely not that of a kind of improvisatory ‘game’. There are indeed mini ‘concertos’ with space given for each soloist, but the intensity of the scoring around those other 15 instrumentalists delivers much more of a modern ‘concerto grosso’ in which there is shifting emphasis and atmosphere depending on the qualities of each solo. For instance, Globokar will often have a section of heightened contrast, with ‘repose’ interrupted by happenings of varying quality, from violent instrumental interjections to vocal cries. This section’s transparency is set-up with a solo from an amplified bass flute, and develops through several theatrical moments before a trumpet solo takes us into the final 5 minutes of the piece, still with solos to be performed. There is always so much more going on than any written description can indicate. Listening to the other instruments during these solos and you’d be hard-pressed to imagine they were ‘trying to put’ these solos onto their own instrument – the piece is too through-composed for that, and in making this observation I’m only criticising expectations generated by the description and not the work, which is typically rich in character and has not a single dull moment.
Soprano Tapaguese Sur Ache de Noë is written for the remarkable performer Alwynne Pritchard, who sings, acts, and does just about everything. “Sitting on a chair, she shakes a nut shaker with her left hand, a wood block pedal with her left foot and ankle bells with her right. At the same time she sings or imitates ‘cries’ of a lion, a nightingale, a monkey or a dog, all accompanied by a metronome…” There are perhaps elements of Berio here, if you seek points of reference, but in any case this is a confrontational but highly skilled vocal performance which, if it hits you right, will have your eyes wide open and your prehensile responses tingling.
Kaleidoskop im Nebel is perhaps the ‘main piece’ here, and it certainly a work that plays up to the BIT20 Ensemble’s intention to provide new and exciting musical experiences for all kinds of audiences. Each musician is also a member of the Bergen symphony orchestra, and the consummate professionality of musicians “who can do anything” encouraged Globokar to create something virtuoso but also sparking with colour and variety; from ‘crowd scenes’ to messy wastelands of sonic quicksand and discomforting strangeness. If you know Globokar then this piece will not come as a surprise, but as a newcomer it might pay to consider each musical moment as a visual animation, letting your imagination free to create unexpected associations and gain access in that way. I don’t consider ‘cartoonish’ to be a derogatory word in this context. This is always going to be quite a dark cartoon, with downward gestures pulling us underground, and upward inflections as likely to be sirens as anything else. Visual and physical qualities in the music has already seen it taken up for choreography by Marjana Krajač with the Cantus Ensemble, and this is the kind of piece that resonates beyond simple concert performance.
Expertly recorded and vibrant in every way, this is a recording that will make an impression on anyone who hears it. If it’s your ‘thing’ or not, and this is very much the kind of contemporary music many people love to hate, this is all very much worth experiencing.