double bass

Éliane Radigue – Occam XVII

Posted on by 5:4 in Thematic series | Leave a comment

For the penultimate work in my week-long journey into winter, i’m again turning away from festive music to a piece that continues my preoccupation with the season’s prevailing darkness. Not that the work in question, Éliane Radigue‘s Occam XVII for double bass, has darkness as its theme; her Occam series is primarily associated with water-related imagery (in part literally, the performers being asked to keep images of specific watercourses in mind while playing). But every time i listen to this piece i’m drawn into a soundworld that i think of as a myriad shades of black, having the same kind of inscrutability and, despite first appearances, endlessly shifting surface details (both real and imaginary) of the marvellous black paintings by Ad Reinhardt.

With all of Radigue’s Occam works it’s arguably best just to listen to them rather than read a lot about them – trying to capture something of their inner magic is nigh impossible anyway – so i’ll keep this brief. Occam XVII essentially charts a slow transition from low A to bottom C# on the double bass, but that’s not remotely what the piece is ‘about’ or what’s most interesting about it. The work begins, and is continuously filled, with a plethora of overtones and harmonics ever in flux. Sometimes they suggest the harmonic series, projecting prominent fifths or thirds, but more often they act not as a reinforcement of the fundamental but a kind of challenging colouration of it. Sometimes they shimmer, sometimes they judder, but always they’re in motion, each up- or down-bow seeming either to change entirely or at least subtly alter the agglomeration of pitches magically emerging from the strings. It gives the impression that the instrument is breathing, each inhalation and exhalation a continuation of the same impulse toward deep, dark meditation. Read more

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Estonian Music Days 2018 (Part 1)

Posted on by 5:4 in Concerts, Festivals, Premières | 1 Comment

A few days ago i returned from spending a week in the city of Tallinn, experiencing most of this year’s Eesti Muusika Päevad, the Estonian Music Days, the country’s most important festival devoted to contemporary music. In previous years i’ve commented on the perception that what one hears during EMD often seems remarkably removed from the conventions and traditions that we associate with new music in western Europe, and in tandem with this, that the development of Estonian contemporary music can appear to have taken place – and, to an extent, continue to be exercised – in a kind of hermetically-sealed bubble. As my understanding and appreciation of this music has deepened, i’ve come to realise there’s both truth and falsehood in these perceptions, but to say that the situation is a complex one – due to a tangled mixture of political, geographical and cultural elements – is to put it extremely mildly.

For the last three years the artistic directors of EMD, composers Helena Tulve and Timo Steiner, have chosen an annual theme for the festival, which is deliberately pithy and allusive in order not to be too prescriptive and to allow composers and audiences the widest possible scope for interpretation (to date: ‘abundance’ in 2015, ‘green sound?’ in 2016 and ‘through dimness’ last year). For 2018 the theme was püha, the Estonian word for ‘sacred’ or ‘holy’, and this point of reference could be felt as a constant through pretty much every concert, though continually provoking a need for reassessment of what that word means and implies, and from much more than just a musical perspective. Read more

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