Music of Nights Without Moon or Pearl   CB0002

The music

Music of Nights Without Moon or Pearl is a 1998 work for string quartet, contrabass, two pianos, and electronic keyboard. The strings in this piece play pizzicato throughout—with their notes sometimes arriving one at a time, disconnected from one another, and sometimes arriving in flurries. An arch-form work that unfolds slowly and insistently, at its point of greatest activity, the texture of Music of Nights might be likened to the sound of rainfall on a roof—delicate, resonate, active, continuously changing while, in some sense, seeming to remain the same.

Invisible “Seeds” for James Tenney is a 1998 work scored for the same forces as Music of Nights. It too is an arch-form work, but unlike its aforementioned sister piece, the strings always play arco. It begins with somewhat slowly moving sustained tones, gradually picks up its pace and intensity until it reaches its climax, and then it slows back down to a state that is somewhat akin to its beginning.

Entrances is a work for four pianos—all four parts stunningly played by David Rosenboom, who also realized the specific construction of the version of this somewhat open-form piece that is heard here. Starting with intermittent bursts of notes, it builds to an extraordinarily dense barrage of sound.

The composer and performers

Michael Byron is a New Jersey/New York-based composer whose works have been performed around the world. As a performer, he has been a member various new music and experimental improvisation ensembles with such other composer/performers as David Rosenboom, Peter Garland, and William Winant and artists Jackie Humbert and George Manupelli. Byron has also been a member of the American Gamelan ensemble Son of Lion. He has taught at York University and served on the Board of Directors of the Aesthetic Research Centre of Canada, where he edited the first issue of Journal of Experimental Aesthetics. He also was the editor/publisher of Pieces, a series of books of music scores by contemporary American composers. Byron has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council for the Arts, and the Canada Council for the Arts, and he has had his music recorded on the Cold Blue and Neutral labels.

David Rosenboom, the pianist(s) on Entrances and the conductor of the other two works on this disc, is a noted composer whose most recent CD, a collaboration with Anthony Braxton, was released on the Lovely Music label. Rosenboom is the Dean of the School of Music at Cal Arts. Rosenboom

The CalArts New Century Players is an ensemble of CalArts instrumental faculty who are also top Los Angeles studio players and new music specialists.


“[P]ieces lovely in their cloudy string textures and abrupt piano riffs…it all breathes the air of pre-Silicon Valley California.” —Kyle Gann, Village Voice

“[C]ascades of swirling music…sincere, technically challenging musical art with a distinct point of view.”Fanfare magazine

“The deeply engaging pieces on Byron’s CD are rigorously about process and implications…. Music of Nights Without Moon or Pearl is a piece to savor…. David Rosenboom’s realization of Entrances is a marvel of stamina and precision.” —International Record Review

Entrances…an impressive piece for four pianos…builds up into rhapsodic frenzy, taking the listener into its maelstrom.”All-Music Guide

“It’s wonderful that music can have such power to (en)lighten the soul and that Michael has the gift to so empower us.” —Richard Teitelbaum

“Byron creates a maximalist effect out of minimalist means.”ClassicalNet

“These are restful pieces of a minimalist solemnity, but they are also impalpable and velvety, like the best of Brian Eno in his ‘Discrete’ days. Pizzicatos, sustained notes, cascading pianos—Byron’s works deserve attention.” —Blow Up magazine (Italy)

“One is reminded not only of the time-bound nature of sculpture (one must move around a piece to fully experience it), but 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.” —Dean Suzuki, San Francisco Bay Guardian

“There is complexity and layering, intrusion and change-of-direction, often when least expected. It is beautiful, enigmatic and involving. —Rupert Loydell, Tangents (UK)

“There is music that tries to include everything. There is music that through a kind of mental erasure, eliminates things, like a stone block is chiseled away to reveal an image somehow already there inside, or like a completed drawing that is then subjected to selective erasing to create new form. Michael Byron, composer of radical tonal music which is not minimalist because the repetition is not the point, writes subtractive music in a way. It is music that creates melody by the intersection of the parts, by making the background come to the front, by creating something not reducible to someone writing melody and harmony on a piano and then taking pieces of that result and assigning them to instruments. Or if he does compose at the keyboard (I have no idea) it is in the realization of the parts that the music comes about, that it sounds, not as much before. That’s how I am thinking of his music as I listen to the three chamber work collection Music of Nights Without Moon or Pearl. The first two works interrelate and most closely adhere to the idea of foreground-subtraction as I impressionistically experience it…. The title piece works in blocks of sound—the pizzicato strings working on harmonically related tonal-melody fragments with a loose pulsation. The synthesizer comes in at angular intervals with a block chord related to the harmony of the strings. The periodicity of its continual sounding and resting has a pulsation that is not in the same ratio as the strings. Finally the two pianos enter with a strummed chord that is rhythmically closer to the pulse of the strings, and as the piece progresses becomes increasingly frequent. In the on-the-surface structurally simple three-section articulations the end effect is of a continually percolating tonality fascinating to hear, with the listening ear taking it all in and at the same time hearing melody come forward as we hold our attention to one or more voices at any point. Finally the piano strums become ever more insistent, then all but disappear to return more quietly as the ear focuses more on strings and synth in the end. The related work that follows, Invisible ‘Seeds’ for James Tenney, has a sectional approach as well. The strings play a sustained arco of tonal-related elements in a progression that contains latent melody in its movement. The pianos punctuate throughout with staccato chords in a somewhat random, irregular pattern that nonetheless works as contrast to the sustained strings. It is in a way a slow movement in contrast to the end-pieces. The two quite sustained, semi-pastoral mood works set the listener up for a considerably less locked-in chromatic-diatonicism in the final piece. Entrances features David Rosenboom on overdubbed multiple (4) pianos working to create an all-over, harmonically complex turbulence that at first almost sounds like something Cecil Taylor would be after in some of his mid-to-later solo works for piano. Yet in the end the music evolves so that motival kernels work off of each other to create a more collaged sweep that increasingly emphasizes more-and-more certain motives. It is a literal phantasmagoria of swirling sound. Perhaps the idea of a subtractive method is not complete without the additive opposite. After all Maestro Byron is in each case combining x, y and z together in interactions over time. But then it’s the effect of the listener mentally creating melody out of the fragments in place of the typical through-composed work that more or less hands it to the listener ready made, that’s where you can think of it subtractively. No matter. The melody could also be thought of as cubistic—refracted and broken into different bits as a cubist artist might handle an image. The point is that the disk gives us three fascinating aural montages that please without managing to fit into any of the pre-ordained structures of pre-modernism, modernism, or minimalism. And of course what matters is that all three resulting works are rewarding and fascinating to hear. Very recommended.” —Grego Edwards, Classical-Modern Music Review