Singh Songs

We’ve heard the Australian trombonist and composer Rishin Singh before as part of the ensemble of players directed by Jason Kahn on his Open Space double-album, a fine piece of radical composition using graphic scores, noted here. He’s also been recorded as one half of improvising duo Black Cracker. Well, Singh is here now composing his own works as part of the small ensemble Songs, on the album 1 & 2 (INTONEMA int015). The quartet comprises himself; Lucio Capece, the Argentinean puffer who yields his bass clarinet here like a silent black panther; Catherine Lamb, who sings and plays viola; and the vocalist Stine Sterne. They appear to be based in Berlin just now; at least they stayed there long enough for Adam Asnan to capture these two works in 2014 and 2015.

They turn in two exceptional pieces of back-to-basics modernism: slow, minimal, enigmatic, formed mostly of long-form drones played and sung with the rigidity of an iron bar. Listeners who like their music “supple” or “flexible” are advised to stay away from these poised and mannered statements; just listening gives us the mental image of two angelic soprano singers in a choir dressed in stiff white outfits, never moving a muscle as they deliver their mysterious vocal plaints, which might contain any emotion from distant sorrow to restrained, modified, joy. The bass clarinet and trombone also maintain a highly formal stance, barely daring to stain the silence with anything more than a careful monotonous utterance, each phrase laid down with the care of a grocer carrying 15 fresh eggs.

As modernism goes, this might not be as perfectly distilled and refined as Morton Feldman, but what is? I like the studied deliberation of the playing, which borders on being awkward, and once you’ve passed through the initial feelings of vague embarrassment, you’ll achieve a certain qualified rapture from the inner stillness that forms the core of these two long works. Their titles, by the way, are ‘Three Lives’ (the very long one), and – wait for it – ‘Six Scenes Of Boredom’. The latter title is a real classic, another one to file away in my imaginary library of plays never written by Eugene Ionesco or Samuel Beckett, and it admits upfront to all the charges which non-believers care to level at modern composition. 1 & 2 is frankly a very boring record, but I embrace this boredom, and you should too. At a time when the world has gone mad trying to pursue empty novelty and reduce our attention spans to less time than it takes to blink a gnat’s eye, we should welcome the chance to concentrate our minds on something as challenging as this still, near-geometric music. Rishin Singh’s profile has now been raised two notches on the mantelpiece.

This is also an exceptional record for the catalogue of this Russian label. Ilia Belourkov (who also did production and design) is genuinely committed to radical art, and he’ll try anything…from 26th October 2015.