Separation Songs is a haunting hour-long continuous work for two string quartets. In it, composer-performer-music technologist Matt Sargent systemically juxtaposes and weaves together an array of 18th-century composer William Billings’s hymn tunes, subtly altering certain aspects of them via real-time-generated variations as the piece unfolds. “Ever wonder what two centuries colliding sounds like…? Listen to Separations Songs.” (Robert Carl)
The composer writes, “Throughout the piece, hymn tunes come and go, passing from one quartet to the other. As tunes reappear, they filter through a ‘separation process,’ whereby selected notes migrate from one quartet to the other. This process leaves breaks in the music that either remain silent or are filled in by stretching the durations of nearby notes, generating new rhythms and harmonies.”
Matt Sargent’s music has been described by critics as “a powerfully organic experience” (Sequenza21) that is “so simple, so natural, and yet sets up a complex set of interactions” (SoundExpanse) as it “uses bare resources to establish a bounded and essential space” (The Wire).
Both quartet parts are performed on this recording by the Eclipse Quartet, a celebrated long-time stalwart of Los Angeles’s new music scene. “The Eclipse [Quartet] is LA’s answer to 20th-century and present-day music.” (HuffPost)
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Splectra is an elegant harp solo embellished by subtle digital processing. Each of the work’s two sections gradually expands a simple rising motive, becoming harmonically richer by adding pitches related to its opening note’s (low C) harmonic series. Splectra is performed by Los Angeles harpist and new-music champion Alison Bjorkedal. The design and realization of the processing was a collaboration between Robert Carl and Matt Sargent.
Robert Carl is a prolific composer, a performer, and an author of books and articles on new music. His eclectic though often serene compositions usually explore a harmonic language based in the overtone series. “[Carl’s] writing is free of the predictable trappings and dogma, conveying an intelligence that doesn’t need to bury itself in theory in order to express something serious and compelling.” (Time Out New York) “Robert Carl would seem to have a hard time writing dull music.” (Boston Globe) “[Carl] has settled into a more serene, meditative idiom, but still with a dissonant edge.” (Kyle Gann) “[Carl’s] work possesses a great deal of immediate, surface appeal, and yet every piece has deeper layers that repay further listening and consideration.” (Fanfare)
Bridges of Pearl and Dust
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Bridges of Pearl and Dust is virtuosic music for four vibraphones. Polyrhythmic and contrapuntal throughout, it rings out with both inevitably and surprise as it moves through its series of lush, beautiful harmonic fields. It’s a composition wherein continuous activity comfortably shares space with a sense of motionlessness. Via overdubs, all of Bridges‘s four parts are performed for this recording by Los Angeles-based percussionist, composer, and new-music advocate Ben Phelps.
Byron writes, “Bridges of Pearl and Dust is a music about one thing: It points toward a musical experience in the present tense; the burden of anticipation is lifted, and drama, along with its potential for surprise, is abandoned.”
Michael Byron’s music, which tends to be harmonically rich, rhythmically detailed, and virtuosic, is often praised for its ability to create uniquely dense constructions out of relatively limited means: “Byron creates maximalist effect out of minimalist means.” (ClassicalNet) “One is reminded…of the mobiles of Alexander Calder, which are both fixed and moving. And, like Calder’s work, Byron’s music is immediately comprehensible and beautiful, while it remains experimental.” (San Francisco Bay Guardian) “Byron’s music, like Ligeti’s, is instantly recognizable, perceptually challenging, beautifully proportioned and deeply satisfying.” (Paris Transatlantic) “Byron’s music dances with tremulous iridescence.” (Julian Cowley, The Wire)
Fabric for String Noise
Fabric for String Noise is wildly virtuosic music for two violins. Unlike pretty much anything else written for violins, this new two-movement piece may be said to resemble some sort of universal folk music of madly driven ecstasy, a sonic canvas wherein intense hyperactivity shares space with an overarching sense of motionlessness. Also on the CD is the first recording of an earlier Byron work, Dragon Rite—a slow, beautifully rumbling work for four double basses, occasionally employing quarter-tones.
Fabric is performed by the new-music violin duo String Noise—violinists Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim. Dragon Rite is performed by bassist Jim Bergman.
Michael Byron’s music tends to be harmonically rich, rhythmically detailed, and virtuosic. It is often praised for its ability to create uniquely dense constructions out of relatively limited means: “Byron creates maximalist effect out of minimalist means.” (ClassicalNet) “One is reminded…of the mobiles of Alexander Calder, which are both fixed and moving. And, like Calder’s work, Byron’s music is immediately comprehensible and beautiful, while it remains experimental.” (San Francisco Bay Guardian) “Byron’s music, like Ligeti’s, is instantly recognizable, perceptually challenging, beautifully proportioned and deeply satisfying.” (Paris Transatlantic) “Byron’s music dances with tremulous iridescence.” (Julian Cowley, The Wire)
Michael Jon Fink
Celesta is a collection of Fink’s alluring, elegant new celesta solos (all previously unrecorded pieces), performed by the composer. This set of pieces, taken as a whole, as a suite, is perhaps the largest statement for the celesta as a solo instrument. (Beautifully recorded on one of LA’s finest five-octave Schiedmayer celestas.)
Fink’s characteristically reductive but expressive music has been described by the Los Angeles Times as “lustrous,” “metaphysically tinged,” and “unapologetically tranquil.” LA Weekly has written that his music is “of ethereal simplicity . . . he has shaped and refined his spare style greatly—it is distinctly his own.”
“There’s something of Gavin Bryars’ evanescent emotional skill to Fink’s music, something of the soft spatial blur of the Evanses (Bill and Gil) … what gets me every time is its sheer and honest beauty.”—Misfit City (UK)
John Luther Adams
Everything That Rises
JACK Quartet is Musical America’s “Ensemble of the Year,” 2019
Everything That Rises is an elegant, haunting, and devilishly difficult string quartet. The composer writes: “Everything That Rises, my fourth quartet, grew out of Sila: The Breath of the World—a concert-length choral/orchestral work composed on a rising series of sixteen harmonic clouds. This music traverses that same territory, but in a much more melodic way. Each musician is a soloist, playing throughout. Time floats and the lines spin out, always rising, in acoustically perfect intervals that grow progressively smaller as they spiral upward…until the music dissolves into the soft noise of the bows, sighing.”
Performed by the incredible, illustrious JACK Quartet.
John Luther Adams, a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award winning composer, is a long-time associate of Cold Blue; his music has appeared on six of the label’s previous CDs.
“Everything That Rises is art without artifice, and its beauty transports the listener into a timeless place outside of everyday experience, surely one of music’s most exalted goals.” —New York Classical Review
“Everything That Rises finds Mr. Adams exploring dissonance and just-intonation tuning, in the gentlest of ways.” —New York Times
“Nature and spirit inform every magical page of Adams’ music…. Everything That Rises takes us to a very still place within. Mere words cannot describe it, but music can conjure it. Something tells me John Luther Adams’ ‘sounds in the air’ may well be an answer to a famous koan.” —Bay Area Reporter
“Adams’s major works have the appearance of being beyond style; they transcend the squabbles of contemporary classical music.” —Alex Ross, The New Yorker
“Adams’s music sounds like it has nothing to accomplish. It simply exists, hanging in mid-air, waiting to be listened to.” —All-Music Guide
“Adams’s music is as hypnotic as it is different.” —MusicWeb Int’l
“Adams’s powerful music finds inspiration, depth of field, and sonic substance in the shapes and textures of the natural world and, most of all, in the composer’s own deep and passionate commitment to the act of listening itself.” —Dusted magazine
“One of the most original musical thinkers of the new century.” — Alex Ross, The New Yorker
Moon Viewing Music (Inscrutable Stillness Studies #1)
Moon Viewing Music is a quiet, sparse, introspective six-movement work for three large Thai-style gongs and large tam-tam, performed by the celebrated new-music percussionist William Winant.
Composer Peter Garland is a long-time associate of Cold Blue; his music has appeared on six of the label’s previous CDs.
“Garland’s music seems to be about the sheer expressive power of sound itself…. I feel he is one of our true originals.” —Robert Carl, Fanfare magazine
“‘Radical consonance’ has been used to describe Garland’s music…an apt choice of words.” —Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare
“[Garland] is an avatar of an experimental American tradition … a composer of mesmerizing music; and in many ways, the musical conscience of my generation…. Garland’s work always brings increasing cognitive involvement; it is much more intricate than it sounds at first.” —Kyle Gann, Chamber Music magazine
“Ever his own man, Garland has moved beyond a strictly minimalist phase of evolving melodic and rhythmic patterns into a hybrid sphere of many influences from the panorama of world music, suggestive of such composers as Conlon Nancarrow and Lou Harrison.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Garland’s…compositions exist entirely on their own terms.” —Signal to Noise magazine
“Garland’s not a very baaaad-assed composer, but he’s one of the best.”—Kyle Gann, Village Voice
River of 1,000 Streams
One of the Alex Ross/The New Yorker “Notable Recordings of 2017”
River of 1,000 Streams is a dense, slowly evolving virtuosic piano piece in which a live/solo part is expanded by the addition of hundreds of “cascading echoes” (reappearing fragments of music) that appear kaleidoscopically in up to 11 simultaneous layers, creating thick clouds of (primarily) tremolos that gradually gain in density and volume as rich, drifting harmonies climb, in a great arc, from the very bottom to the top of the keyboard.
River is performed by one of Los Angeles’s most prominent pianists, Vicki Ray, a Grammy-nominated new-music champion and a founding member of the California EAR Unit and Piano Spheres. She has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and many new music groups in LA and around the world. [More info…]
“When it comes to attempts at musical seduction, Lentz’s music is way out front.” —Kyle Gann, Village Voice
“Lentz’s music inhabits…a musical ‘state of becoming,’ where both new and reappearing musical and textual fragments are fused through complex layering processes.” —John Schaefer, New Sounds, WNYC
“Lentz’s work ‘chortles’ in ways both sensual and intellectual.” —Los Angeles Reader
“By intriguing his listeners at the same time he wreathes them in smiles, Lentz always comes up with something listenable and worthwhile.” —Gramophone
A Guitar Moderne 2017 “Record Pick”
Larry Polansky’s freeHorn is an album of three shape-shifting chamber works. The textural, ever morphing freeHorn, performed by an octet of mixed instruments, and the pulsing electric guitar duo ii-v-i modulate between three different natural harmonic series, providing intriguing musical outings that are somewhat adrift from the tempered tunings that most of us are accustomed to. The short third track, minmaj, another duo for electric guitars, is Polansky’s unusual “translation” of Carl Ruggles’s 1921 brass piece Angels. The three works are performed by the composer in the company of a group of Bay Area composer-performers. [More info…]
“The Music of…Larry Polansky is a marvelous combination of the mathematical and the expressive. The blend is so seamless, in fact, that it serves to point out the absurdity of regarding those two strains as opposite or even especially different.” —Joshua Kosman, SFGate
“Polansky has created a vast body of compositions that defy stylistic pigeonholing, from two-second canons to massive solo piano showcases as well as works for rock band, interactive computer environments, and solo piccolo in extended just intonation…. Every project he gets involved with ties to his social philosophy, as well. In everything he does, Polansky aims to create a model for a better world, a place where hierarchies cease to be oppressive and barriers are abolished.” —Frank J. Oteri, NewMusicBox
This new CD presents two of Australian composer Stephen Whittington’s stunningly beautiful string quartets: his elegant, eclectic seven-movement …from a thatched hut, which embraces, sometimes obliquely, the composer’s deep interest in Chinese poetry and his frequent travels in China, and his evocative, haunting Windmill, which draws sonic references to the small metal windmills commonly found in rural areas of Australia (“pump[ing] up life-giving water in the often desolate landscape,” the composer notes) and much of the rest of the world. Both works are performed by Australia’s celebrated Zephyr Quartet, the group that recorded Whittington’s earlier Cold Blue release, Music for Airport Furniture (CB0038). [More info…]
“If Australia has produced a classic piece of musical minimalism, [Windmill] is it.” —Graham Strahle, The Australian
“Stephen combines a certain Brit-Aussie whimsy and humor with a sharp critical mind, a deep knowledge of the American and international avant-garde, and an increasing awareness that Australia, being a pacific nation, looks to Asia as its closest neighbor.” —Peter Garland
“Whittington weaves together musical influences from many different musical cultures…. His compositions have significant depth to them.” —Ralph Graves, Finding Beauty in Ephemera