New Music Journal

This CD features two works by Christopher Fox in addition to the three Irish composers represented, a composer who has many connections with Ireland. The eponymous piece is evocative, hypnotic and moves from a monotone to multi-layered textures that are very resonant, before ending with an opening out to other sound worlds beyond the piece which breaks the spell of the preceding music effectively, as well as being neatly subversive as an anti-ending. The words of the title recur as a sort of refrain several times through the piece, enhancing the atmosphere which is at times dreamlike, at other times more surreal. The work is shrouded in memory, and evokes the layering, recurrence and selectivity of our memories beautifully. Fox very successfully creates an organic growth from the single line to the many, or from the horizontal to the vertical: the unity between the two (both being derived from the same material) forging a unique sound world for the piece. The considerable demands on the soloist are superbly realised in this recording. His early work Magnification is also featured on the CD and presents another distinctively imagined soundscape, using more indeterminate methods. The atmosphere is consistently sustained, with the interaction between voice and recorded humming providing internal flux. A heightened sense of exaltation is vividly conjured, with the singer trying to capture this heightened state but only partly through language: the text and its meaning meet somewhere in the middle, with resonance once again playing a pivotal part, as the live singer creates their own resonating chamber.

Linda Buckley’s Numarimur presents another distinctively imagined sonic landscape which is beautifully sustained, with some internal variation within a lyrical, hypnotic ambience. The piece is more circular than linear, almost as if it is being viewed (heard) from different angles. This is a dreamlike piece with soft edges, in which the medieval and contemporary electronica mix, personal to the composer, evokes a timelessness that is also contemporary. Although based on a long narrative Icelandic poem, the piece does not have a narrative thrust – the ending is more a stopping point than a conclusion, leaving the feeling that the piece continues beyond our hearing.

There are also two pieces by Grainne Mulvey recorded here. Eternity is Now presents a pared down version of Mulvey’s usual multi-textured soundworld, the single line being coloured vividly. There is a restraint here which does not eschew Mulvey’s customary demand for virtuosity. The sensitively controlled line is clothed in a wide vocal palette. The explosive nature of her work is veiled here, but none the less personal for that. Phonology Garden is vivid, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes nightmarish, and is a striking example of the kaleidoscopic incorporation of the natural within the supernatural. Mulvey describes the voice as being “like a garden”, and her exploration of the possibilities of the voice in both the solo and taped part creates an impression of something primeval and elemental, yet still vividly communicative for that. The human raw material is used to create an impression of something novel and surreal, conjuring the elemental with great sophistication and verve.

The David Bremner piece is the longest on the CD by some distance, based on a 25-word text (described by the composer as “a pool of 25 words”), being set (if that is the correct term) in three-word phrases. The pitch material mirrors this to some extent, with a gradually unfolding content which sometimes turns back on itself and sometimes inches its way forward. Bremner divides the work into sections which suggest a dramatic sequence of events, but I don’t think these sections are perceptible to the listener: there is rather a merging of the logical and irrational on a large scale, magically sustained and often hypnotically involving. Berio’s SequenzaIII may be a model to some extent, but the extended techniques of that piece are not present here; this is effectively a long, continuously sung line from beginning to end.  There is an urge to communicate here, which is sometimes tentative and teasing, and at other times hurried and frantic, but always compelling. This is due in no small part to the terrific performance by Elizabeth Hilliard, which is wonderfully controlled in terms of vocal colour and dramatic urgency (even at reduced dynamic levels). The work is part dramatic scena, and part dreamlike evocation: it is a triumph for both composer and performer.

—Martin O'Leary