Very happy to discover the work of Egidija Medekšaite, a Lithuanian modernist composer whose work is quite new to me, but this may be her first solo record and she has only been represented previously on a few interesting compilations, including Loop Rituals: Lithuanian Postminimalism, a record which also included our favourite conceptualist Arturas Bumšteinas, and which was attached as a cover-mount to an issue of the Polish Glissando magazine in 2009. She was also included on two volumes of New Music From Lithuania, a promotional series from this same label.
The record Textile (MUSIC INFORMATION CENTRE LITHUANIA CD092) is absolutely beautiful. Spectral, droning, microtonal music rendered with orchestras, choirs, chamber ensembles, and soloists. Whichever way it’s scored, every piece here is a compelling listen, gradually drawing the listener into a fully-realised world (or an entire cosmos) of sound. Even at around ten-twelve minutes duration, every piece is too short for me…a box set next time would be an even more satisfying proposition. I never wanted the music to end.
Medekšaite claims inspiration from two main sources. One of them is to do with non-Western music, i.e. classical Indian music and traditional Hindustani music. Much the same can be said for Terry Riley and La Monte Young, who fell under the influence of the classical Hindustani singer Pandit Pran Nath. However, even their sublime music can seem quite assertive and over-stated compared with the delicate and subtle tones of Medekšaite here. Whereas the American school experimented with something called Just Intonation, I can feel more “microtonality” in Medekšaite’s nebulous clusters of sounds, and more than once I bethought me of the great Ligeti – particularly on the gorgeous ‘Âkâsha’, whose slow-moving microtonal glories create the effect of a revelation in the mind, unfolding in real time. The eerie choral piece ‘Textile 2’, sung by the Vilnius City Municipal Choir Jauna Muzika, is also somewhat Ligeti-esque and has affinities with his famous ‘Requiem’ music, but again Medekšaite’s music has a subtlety that seems to evade male composers who are trying to make a serious point. Throughout this album I feel a composer making a far more compassionate attempt to reveal profound truths through the power of faith and love and the spirit, rather than through intellectual arguments.
The second source of Medekšaite’s influence is “textile patterns”. Another composer who studied Persian carpets was Morton Feldman, who apparently used the patterns as the structural basis for some of his compositions. Our Lithuanian lady has a technique all of her own which she’s been working on since 2005. It involves recasting grid information from a textile pattern onto a set of musical rules, so that the very geometry of the pattern itself can “determine sound parameters like pitch, duration, dynamics or timbre”. The process is not exclusively geometric, as the compositions are later enriched with other compositional methods, but this seems to be the starting point. I think we can hear the evidence of the technique most clearly on ‘Pratiksha’, played by the Ensemble Apartment House – it’s about the most “busy” piece on the album, and does indeed feel like it’s being woven on a magic loom before our very ears, using the ether itself as its fabric. The piece has an underlying pattern which borders on being obsessive (in a good way), and even a simple key change causes a surprisingly dramatic effect. ‘Sandhi Prakash’ may also have a textile pattern concealed in its lush, metallic oddness, but it’s harder to discern in these gaseous billows of cloud-like music.
We could also mention ‘Oscillum’, a solo performance for cello played by Anton Lukoszevieze, one of the most understated drones on the album and resembling a kind of low-key, pared-down form of sitar music. Or ‘Textile 1’, scored for two pianos and feeling uncharacteristically romantic in the context of the other works, which are mysterious, opaque, and close-lipped. On the other hand, the record ends on a very romantic note, with the gorgeous ‘Scintilla’ played by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra; if her plan was to improve on Alice Coltrane’s devotional reworkings of Eastern classical forms into awe-inspiring cosmic forms, then on this account Medekšaite’s work is a complete success.
Issued in a plain looking grey foldout cover with booklet including detailed explanatory notes by Linas Paulauskis and Povilas Vaitkevicius, this release is an untrammelled delight to which I give unequivocal recommendation. From 31st January 2017.