Three substantial compositions of Aaron Einbond, the New York composer, are available on this CD Without Words (CARRIER RECORDS 022). The first of these is the title track, featuring the very distinctive vocalising of Amanda DeBoer Bartlett performing alongside the Ensemble Dal Niente, who provide a delicate but sturdy framework of strings, woodwinds, percussion and horn. In amongst the complex atonal and dissonant creaks and glides, additional cultural references are woven into the music in the form of brief audio samples from assorted philosophical pundits, such as Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Matsuo Basho, and Douglas Huebler. The complexity of this composition makes my head spin; its creation has involved a rich slew of largely non-musical sources, such as computerised research data, which have been mapped against fragmented texts and particles of speech broken down into tiny fragments, all enacted in a complex compositional schema. For sheer innovation in compositional technique and annotation, ‘Without Words’ is remarkable; just take a look at the score, which he has partially published online. This one feels like a very intense study of something intangible, an almost microscopic examination of the fabric of thought itself. Choke!
‘Post-Paleontology’ has similar close-scrutiny qualities and indeed is explicitly described as a “zoom in on an intricate soundworld’, and it showcases the mighty contrabass clarinet against just four acoustic instruments – violin, guitar, piano and percussion. As I’m fond of pointing out, the contrabass clarinet is taller than a man standing upright, and it produces profound creaking bass tones so strong that they could shake the very worms out of the ground. Einbond seems enchanted with the sonic properties of this musical chimney for sure, but he uses it incredibly sparingly, allowing its snarling growls to curl like smoke within a taut and precisely designated score. Only occasionally is the seven-foot monster permitted to utter an angry bark, a sound which is quite shocking in this context when it appears. Come to that, all the instruments here strain like jaguars and panthers kept on very tight leashes. I’m on slightly safer ground here since ‘Post-Paleontology’ feels a bit more like certain strains of improvised music which I’m familiar with, although of course it’s all composed. It’s also slightly easier to digest, since it’s not enriched with the dense conceptual layers as ‘Without Words’, and it emerges as a perfectly-programmed work which achieves similar effects to some of the tunes on Stockhausen’s Aus Den Sieben Tagen.
For those hungry for further exciting bass tones, look no further than ‘Break’, where sax player Ryan Muncy’s tightly-controlled breathing techniques are starkly presented against a backdrop of live computer processing. Barks, honks, drones, squeals – every sound he makes is dipped in amber and stands out with tremendous clarity. It’s as though the segmenting techniques of ‘Without Words’ had been redeployed in miniaturist form, to produce this solemn and profound statement.
Even more miniaturist than the above are the two sets of “Postcard” compositions, which are interleaved between the longer compositions, and last around a minute or 90 seconds apiece. Here the composer plays selections from his collection of field recordings, sometimes overlaying them with short instrumental passages from saxophones and other instruments. Even these brief passages are intricately composed; they begin life as recorded samples, which are in turn written out as musical scores, to be played live by the talented members of the Ensemble.
The release is Aaron Einbond’s debut, his first “portrait album”; and also the debut of the Chicago-based Ensemble Dal Niente. It is the fruit of many years of collaboration between both parties. Every time I receive one of these Carrier Records albums, I am usually impressed at the sheer craft and skill involved, to say nothing of the intellectual prowess of the polymath composers. This release is no exception.