Verbal Framing

We heard from Robin Hayward with his 2016 LP release, Reidemeister Move Plays Borromean Rings on Corvo Records. You may recall that was a picture disc with the musical score printed directly on it; this format has been reprised for Words Of Paradise (EDITION TELEMARK 864.03), a solo LP credited to Hayward (composed by him, though performed with the help of two brass-playing compadres); and like Borromean Rings it’s a fairly conceptual work, and again the music is very precise and very slow-moving.

The concept behind Words Of Paradise derives from the work of a Renaissance scientist, Johannes Goropius Becanus, who (like many 16th-century geniuses) studied and practised many disciplines, including physics and linguistics. His linguistic studies led him to focus on Brabantian, a dialect of the Dutch language that was for a time spoken in certain provinces of Holland and Belgium. Becanus was convinced that Brabantian was the oldest of all languages, based largely on the premise that it was so simple, and that it mostly used short words. From this point he began to evolve the idea that Brabantian’s simplicity made it a strong candidate for being the root of all spoken languages, predating even Latin and Greek; and that it was in fact the language spoken in the Garden of Eden.

This prelapsarian theory has given rise to the title of Hayward’s work in this instance. I’m not sure he’s so keen on the theme (which is saying something about the fall of man) as he is about the technique (imitating the vowel sounds of Brabantic with his music). Brabantian apparently used a lot of very short single-syllable words; thirteen of these have been selected for use in this musical work. Further, Hayward is building on another unusual theory of Johannes Goropius Becanus, the idea that if words are said backwards then they mean the exact opposite; “reversing a word’s sound reversed its semantic meaning”, to use Hayward’s own phrase. This feels to me (with my very superficial knowledge of history) like a method John Dee would have seized upon for necromantic purposes. Hayward has turned it into a musical technique, putting reversible words together into hyphenated entities, and then attempting to imitate these vocal sounds with his microtonal tuba.

In this task, he’s joined by the horn player Elena Kakaliagou (who made the interesting and unusual Nabelóse record for Corvo, with Ingrid Schmoliner) and the trombonist Hilary Jeffery, whose Solo Trombone & Electronics CD we heard in 2003. The three players are doing it in the framework of Hayward’s “tuning vine”, which also shaped the colour coding in the graphic score; this set-up gives the players some leeway about making improvisatory decisions. The overall shape of the piece gradually reveals itself over 40 minutes; it grows more complex, with more mixed chords, and “subharmonic relationships”, such that the initial unity and harmony we heard at the start gives way to a generalised form of collapse, almost a Tower of Babel situation (although the music’s minimalism is some way from that sort of chaos). This structure is intended as a metaphor for man’s fall from Paradise, in keeping with the original Becanus idea.

It’s a good one; while the Borromean record felt stilted and awkward to me, this one has a shade more fluidity, and the players work conscientiously and methodically, building up tension. The compositional structure also allows the work to arrive somewhere, something I didn’t feel happening with Borromean Rings. Arrived 26 February 2019.

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