Air Mass

Fair piece of minimalist contemporary chamber music here from the trio of Maya Bennardo, Erik Blennow Calälv, and Kristofer Svensson. Two Skies (THT17) is released on the Swedish label Thanatosis Produktion, many of whose catalogue items are exemplary instances of restraint and sombre shades. Two Skies fits in well in such company, which isn’t to say it’s morose or filled with shadows of gloom, but the music is slow and contemplative, and has an interesting still centre which seems to hold everything together.

Two separate pieces: ‘av hav’ was composed by Svensson, ‘in yp’ composed by Calälv. Bennardo happens to be a composer in her own right, a violinist, also a frequent performer and an improviser, collaborator in many groups and duos, champion of new music, and a teacher; all of which she does operating from New York City or Stockholm, the latter city being where she overlaps with our two solemn Swedish players. I call them solemn, my friends, due to austere nature of Calälv’s serene tones that emanate from his lovely bass clarinet and likewise the plucking simplicity of Svensson. He plays the kacapi, an instrument I never heard of, but it’s kind of an Indonesian zither, not far apart from the guzheng in China or the koto in Japan. He studied this instrument in Bandung, hence the press claim that he’s bringing traditional Sudanese music to the mix, but is this really the case? On his ‘av hav’ we have some 34+ mins of carefully-chosen notes hanging in space, or I should say in the sky; every scrape of violin replete with constrained emotion, likewise every long tone from the bell of the clarinet. Svensson could be said to add points of light, in the manner of a Seurat, to the broad canvas we hear. But the light is pale and sickly, as if limned by a young Edvard Munch in the cold atmospheres of Norway. We ought to mention that the general plan on Two Skies is to produce “a hybrid form of chamber music” and that it sits between composition and improvisation, which is good, and a lot of musicians nowadays are claiming to to occupy this hitherto unexplored space; so many in fact that it’s turning into its own well-populated colony. I’m admiring the crystalline beauty of ‘av hav’, but I’m not finding much warmth or depth in its enigmatic wafts.

Clicking on to ‘in yo’ finds the talented musicians occupying much the same space, only now with even more protracted gaps of silence suggesting the clouds and air of this imaginary audio sky; still the same unforced pace of playing, the deliberation, as if waiting for just the right moment to utter with chosen instrument. Said instruments do sit together perfectly well, and yet somehow I’m forming this impression of people holding a conversation while constantly looking away from each other, as if to make eye contact might reveal too much. Some other useful keywords, or phrases, I can quote from the press include “poetic focus”, “harmonically anchored”, “a free, unfettered approach to sound”, and “the harmonic space of tones”. From 15 August 2022.

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