The great Carrier Records label again brings us news of superb and electrifying modernist composition happening right now on the streets of New York City. This release Dis Un Il Im Ir (CARRIER 023) brings us five works from the pen of Bryan Jacobs, each one played by a different NYC Ensemble of musicians, giving ample evidence of the composer’s skill with strong dynamics, strong rhythms, and the integration of live electronics into the work to extend the sounds of the instruments. Like label-mate Sam Pluta, he conveys impressions of NYC as the most exciting place in the world, where everyone has acid in their veins, you have to run just to stand still and a hundred rabid dogs are snapping at your ass wherever you go.
On ‘Dis Un Il Im Ir’, for example, the Ensemble Pamplemousse play flute, piano and keyboard with tremendous verve and attack, the tinkling high-register keys pumping out the sort of urgent pulse that brings ambulances running at high speed. The flute squeals like an insane, barking bird who can’t find his way out of his own birdcage. Live electronics are interacting with these frantic five minutes to further the sense of mayhem. It feels unstoppable, yet you’ve rarely heard such clarity; each note stands out as sharp and impressive as a girder jutting out from a skyscraper. Right away we’re hearing many signature Jacobs elements, on this short piece that’s as jumpy and hot as a firecracker.
On ‘TsTs’, the strings, horns and woodwinds of the International Contemporary Ensemble are able to blend together with thrilling mixed chords, never sitting still for ten seconds – now droning, now jousting like knights, now setting forth agitated shrieks that even Bernard Herrmann would’ve blanched at. The percussion and bass are indispensable here, acting as a giant-sized typewriter powerhouse, propelling the changes and prodding the other players with forks. Again, precision and clarity are the watchwords, the score showing utmost sympathy for each instrument’s individual voice. It’s another hurried and harried piece, and you wonder if the composer directed all the players to set their pants on fire before entering the recording studio.
The Talea Ensemble play ‘Anininimate’, once again with a rich combination of strings, woodwinds and percussion, with the piano for the most part acting as the Rt Hon Keeper of the Pulse. The time changes for this one are so complex that a listener can barely keep up; the “superhuman” skills of these NYC players never cease to amaze me. Which brings us to the Wet Ink Large Ensemble, whose works have amazed us before on their albums Relay and Machine Language, where they played the compositions of Sam Pluta. On the piece ‘Left, Writer, Leftist, Richtester, Leftesterest’, there’s a mix of horns and woodwinds underpinned by two percussionists and a contrabass, plus two MIDI keyboards injecting double doses of digital diabolerie. In the context of this album, this one is almost the “pop music” piece, which isn’t to say there’s a melody or a familiar beat, but it’s got a rollicking sense of fun as it depicts the wayward heaving and sawing of the modern city, peopled by a half-crazed mob. With competing rhythmic elements crashing into each other to gain the upper hand, it’s another fast-paced rollercoaster tug-of-war affair; if the rest of the album is set in Manhattan, then the ideal milieu for this one is probably Coney Island.
Also we must needs mention the uncharacteristic ‘Do You Need, Do To Me, 18 Me, 18 Mean’ which is performed by the six classically trained singers of the Ekmeles Vocal Ensemble doing battle with Bryan Jacobs’ “electronic button boxes”. This is like hearing Stockhausen’s Stimmung performed at 100mph. Besides creating gorgeous mixed harmonies, the vocalists are required to jabber fragments of random phrases and assorted gibberish like Henri Chopin and His Pals on speed. As with all the pieces here, not a single note or syllable is blurred; Jacobs, one guesses, must be as insistent as Frank Zappa for getting it absolutely right.
The press release praises the “dramatic musical constructions” of Jacobs, while also placing the NYC artistic community at the hub of experimental music composition, a place where the “rebellious music-making [is] inspired by distortion, improvisation, amplification and feedback”. Another great one, arrived here 01 April 2014.