Clarice Jensen Solo Debut Album


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Miasmah Records MIA041 

Another refugee from one of those new music groups comes forth with a debut album.  This time it is cellist Clarice Jensen who also serves as artistic director of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME).  And what amazes this listener is the sheer diversity one can find in solo cello recordings.

This recording focuses on the special tunings by La Monte Young student Michael Harrison who has carved his own unique compositional style as well as some interesting work by the late Johan Johannson and by the soloist herself.  

There are 4 tracks: 
bc by Clarice Jensen and Jóhann Jóhannsson
Cello Constellations by Michael Harrison 
For this from that will be filled (a) by Clarice Jensen
For this from that will be filled (b) by Clarice Jensen

While there are consistencies between the sound world of these pieces they have their own identity.  Johansson’s work opens the disc and sets the tone for all that comes after.  This is not simply a cellist with a set of cool effects pedals.  Rather this is a soloist seeking to become one with her instrument (which includes the electronics).

Michael Harrison’s work is heard too infrequently.  The former student of La Monte Young carries on the tradition of exploring new tunings in a manner one might expect of the next generation of this practice.  Harrison (no relation to Lou) creates dream like worlds with the psychological  effects of these tunings and this work is a stunning example.

Jensen plays the two parts of the title track, “For this from that will be fulfilled”.  Multiple generations beyond the kitschy “one man band” novelty concept, Jensen’s playing must be a mesmerizing live experience.  This track was originally designed to accompany visuals by one Jonathan Turner who did the striking photography of the album’s cover.

The review copy lacked liner notes (a personal bugaboo) and the press release and notes on the soloist’s site and that of Bandcamp also tell precious little.  Fortunately this is music which speaks pretty directly and can easily be  enjoyed with no knowledge of whence it came.  Just sit back, relax, and enjoy.  Jensen’s playing is magical.

Jensen in performance (photo from web site)

Not Your Momma’s Theremin: Carolina Eyck’s Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet


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Butterscotch BSR-015 featuring cover art by Carolina Eyck

The Theremin, named after its inventor Leon Theremin (1896-1993), is an early electronic instrument which is controlled by the positioning of the performer’s hands in relation to two antennae.  One controls volume, the other pitch.  That’s it, a simple instrument but one which has had a tremendous impact on music and on the subsequent development of more sophisticated electronic instruments.  Perhaps it is best known for the brilliantly chilling effect created by Bernard Hermann’s use of it in his score for The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).  Its subsequent appearance in the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations (1966) was a testament to the instrument’s durability.

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Lydia Kavina with Leon Theremin

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Clara Rockmore on her Bridge Records album

While several people, most notably Clara Rockmore (1911-1998) and Lydia Kavina (1967- ), have performed as soloists with the instrument it seems to have remained a niche phenomenon as a solo instrument.  This release by Carolina Eyck (1987- ) appears to begin a new era (or at least wider niche). Eyck is a gifted composer as well as a virtuoso and she uses a modified instrument, apparently with midi controlling capabilities (she uses an instrument made by Robert Moog of Moog Synthesizer fame). Many composers have also written new works for her Including Kalevi Aho whose Concerto for Theremin and Orchestra has been recorded by its dedicatee.  Lydia Kavina was a protege of Leon Theremin as well as Eyck’s first teacher thus creating an unbroken musical lineage.  This youngest practitioner now leads the way to the next generation of performance and composition for this 1919 invention.

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Recent photo of Lydia Kavina at a concert

The present release Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet (2016) is Eyck’s ninth album in eight years.  I have not heard the previous eight albums but after hearing this one I do plan to seek them out.  The works presented here showcase both virtuosity and compositional invention of a high level.  I have enjoyed this album immensely.

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Carolina Eyck in performance (from Wikipedia)

The six works on this disc have a post-minimal/impressionistic quality and do much to showcase the vocal like qualities of the instrument as well as the extended capabilities of Eyck’s customized personal choice of instrument.  She is accompanied here by the string quartet of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) consisting of Caroline Shaw and Ben Russell, violins; Caleb Burhans, viola; and Clarice Jensen, cello.  They play beautifully together.

There is an “essay” by recording engineer Allen Farmelo which goes more into the conceptual context of the recording than the music.  Much is made of this disc being conceived for (vinyl) LP though it has not been issued as such as far as I can tell.  (Correction:  It has been brought to my attention that this recording is available on vinyl) The recording is lucid and listener friendly and the “LP” concept might explain why this disc is shorter than the average CD.  It is, despite its brevity, a lovely production and well worth your time.  Eyck, who also created the beautiful cover art, is an interesting artist at the beginnings of what looks like a great career as both composer and performer.