In 1976 the premiere of Henryk Gorecki‘s tonal and melodic 3rd Symphony stood out as unusual in the context of the usual avant-garde fare heard at the annual Warsaw Autumn Festival. I recall a similar experience when I first heard the music of Lou Harrison given his association with Henry Cowell and John Cage. It was not what I expected to hear.
This young composer graciously sent me a copy of this, his major label debut for me to review. I noted that it was on the Experimental Intermedia label which was founded by Phill Niblock and is known for recording of a great deal of challenging and interesting avant-garde music by various composers including Phil Niblock, Jackson Mac Low, Guy Klucevsek, Ellen Fullman, David Behrman and many others. I have been a great fan of this record label for many years and own most of their titles. But what I heard listening to this beautiful 2 disc set of relatively short pieces mostly for acoustic instruments seems radical in the context of this label’s usual fare.
Don’t get me wrong. This does not appear to be conservative music. Waller has studied with La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela and Bunita Marcus giving him a healthy pedigree in the avant-garde. Indeed his earlier works were concerned with alternate tunings. By earlier works, of course, I am only referring to a few years before the present music under consideration here because this composer, not yet 30, is presenting a fully developed sound. Here he is concerned with alternate scales, church modes as opposed to the western diatonic scales. There are a few instances of the use of quarter tones but, for the most part, he seems concerned with exploring the impact of different modes within the tuning of equal temperament which dominates western music.
For all the technical interest one might have in analyzing this composer’s use of modes the important thing here is the emotional impact of the music. These frequently somber but beautiful melodies and motives speak very directly to the listener, at least this listener anyway. This two disc set provides an excellent survey of the composer’s output over the last two or three years.
The titles are somewhat enigmatic and reflect a very personal approach. He does not seem concerned with classical forms nor is he apparently opposed to them. Again analysis will not reveal as much as just listening. He creates beautiful contours of almost vocal quality at times. I am given to wonder how he will confront music for voices and imagine that his style will serve him well. I am tempted to compare him to Arvo Part perhaps but I don’t want to suggest that his work is derivative or, for that matter, even influenced by Part’s work. I just get a similar feeling listening to Waller’s music.
This disc of chamber music for mostly acoustic instruments employs quite of few fine musicians who seem to be inspired to play their best by this music. Pianists include Yael Manor, Charity Wicks, Nicolas Horvath and Marija Ilic. Violinists include Conrad Harris, Pauline Kim-Harris, Jessica Park and Esther Noh. Violists are Daniel Panner, Cyprien Busolini and Erin Wight. On cello we hear Christine Kim, Deborah Walker and Clara Kennedy. Carson Cooman is featured on Organ. Flautists are Amélie Berson, Itay Lantner and Luna Cholang Kang. Pierre Stéphane Meugé plays alto sax, Didier Aschour plays electric guitar (the only non-acoustic instrument on this recording), Thierry Madiot plays trombone, Katie Porter is on clarinet and Devin Maxwell plays percussion. All play in various groupings from solo to small chamber ensembles.
The detailed and very helpful liner notes are by “Blue” Gene Tyrrany aka Robert Sheff. The beautiful cover was photographed by Phill Niblock.
This is an album of miniatures with no track lasting longer than about ten minutes though there are works which are cast in several movements. The pieces were all written in the last 4 years and constitute an excellent survey of this emerging talent.