A Temperament for Angels   CB0017

The music

A Temperament for Angels (written in 1989 and fully revised for this recording in 2003) combines equal measures of beauty and grit in a powerful, kaleidoscopic, elusively shaped textural music that is compelling from its first quiet violin note (to its full sixteen voices of strings and electronic/sampled sounds and percussion) to its final shimmer of decaying cymbals. Often dark and moody, this music speaks in broad, chromatic harmonies and light, nearly detached single pitches, shuttling almost mobile-like between these extremes with a natural grace and sense of inevitability.

Reviewing a live performance of the work: “A Temperament for Angels demonstrated…a complex system…producing dense, slowly changing sounds…. [A]tmospherically gloomy and harmonically quite subtle.” —Keith Potter, Musical Times (London)

This recording features two of Los Angeles’s most noted new-music specialists and members of the celebrated chamber group The California EAR Unit: violinist Robin Lorentz and cellist Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick , each tracked multiple times.

The composer

Michael Jon Fink’s instrumental and electronic music has been presented at the Green Umbrella Series of the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, New Music L.A., the Monday Evening Concerts, the SCREAM Festival, the Fringe Festival, New Music America, Festival Commune di Chiesa, the Martes Musicales, Podewil, the Marquette Festival of New Music, the CalArts Contemporary Music Festival, Outpost, and other festivals and individual concerts throughout the U.S. and Europe. He has performed and recorded with the new music ensembles Negative Band and Stillife. His orchestra works have been commissioned and performed by the Classical Philharmonic, the Symphony of the Canyons, and the Santa Monica Symphony. Fink has also composed incidental music for two plays of William Butler Yeats: The Herne’s Egg and Deirdre, the latter of which was featured at the1996 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His music has been released on the Cold Blue, Raptoria Caam, Bare Bones, Wiretapper, TrancePort, Contagion, and CRI record labels. In recent years, Fink has devoted a good deal of his time to performing as an improvisor (electric guitar), touring in both the States and Europe (Belgium, France, Germany, Poland).

The Los Angeles Times has described Fink’s music as “lustrous,” “metaphysically tinged” and “unapologetically tranquil” and likened it to the work of the late composer Morton Feldman. The L.A. Weekly has written that Fink’s music is “of ethereal simplicity . . . he has shaped and refined his spare style greatly—it is distinctly his own.”

The performers

Robin Lorentz (violin) has been a featured violinist on tour with composers Terry Riley and John Luther Adams and a member of the noted new music ensemble California E.A.R. Unit since 1984. She is a featured performer in the Santa Fe Pro Musica and has served as concertmaster on the L.A. Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella series and at the Ojai Festival. She gave the world premiere of John Adams’s Road Movies at the Kennedy Center and the premiere of Virko Baley’s Kolimayaka, A Dance for solo violin at Carnegie Hall. An accomplished arranger and composer as well as a versatile instrumentalist, Robin’s solo violin playing has been featured in such motion pictures as Other People’s Money and Back To The Future III and the television series Northern Exposure. She has recorded for New Albion, Cold Blue, New World, O.O.Discs, Sony, MCA, Columbia, Echograph, and Glenfinnian Records. Ms. Lorentz co-wrote with composer Eve Beglarian and performed a series of Stephen King audio books for Penguin Publishing. She has served on the faculty at the California Institute of the Arts. 

Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick (cello) is an active soloist, chamber musician, and specialist in contemporary music. She has performed world and local premieres of solo and chamber works throughout the United States and Europe, including the LA Olympic Festival, the Computer Music Festival in Zurich, the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and the San Francisco Symphony’s New and Unusual Music series. She recently recorded Elliott Carter’s Enchanted Preludes, a work written for her and flutist Dorothy Stone. She has toured with Joan LaBarbara and Morton Subotnick since 1981, and Jacob’s Room (on Wergo Records) marks her fourth appearance in recordings of Subotnick’s music. Among the many other composers who’ve written works for her are Mel Powell, Alvin Lucier, and Michael Jon Fink. She is a founding member of the California E.A.R. Unit, a Los Angeles-based new music ensemble, with which she tours throughout the United States and Europe. She has also given master classes and recitals under the auspices of the U.S.I.A. “Arts America” Program in Central and South America. Ms. Kirkpatrick has recorded for the Nonesuch, Wergo, New Albion, Voyager, and Cold Blue labels. 

Jonathan Marmor (percussion) is a recent graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, where he studied North Indian music with Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri and composition with Michael Jon Fink, James Tenney, and Michael Pisaro. He performs both traditionally presented new music and improvisational music regularly in the Los Angeles area.


“An impressive, beautiful CD single offers up a seamless, elegant ‘cloud’ of sound….The idea of music transporting the listener is an old-fashioned one, yet here is another beautiful Cold Blue single of new music that takes us to another world. Michael Jon Fink impresses with his ability to straddle electronic and acoustic, free and structured, new and old…. Ecstatic pedal tones often anchor the music far below the other voices—and can sound like chord roots as they pull the piece toward tonality, only to draw it away again…. Fink’s mingling of acoustic and electronic creates a truly seamless, elegant continuum of sound—helped no doubt by the mixing desk, not to mention the warmth and general high quality of the recording.” —Arved Ashby, Gramophone

“Music that…feels as if it could go on endlessly…music that comes from the classical tradition, but that feels like it belongs somewhere other than the concert hall…texturally rich, meticulously crafted and delicately beautiful.”Dusted

“A miniature masterpiece. The cymbals, the sampled keyboards and the strings combine to form a continuum, like waves in oscillation, side by side, superimposed, overtaking one another. The composer…is confirmed as a master of sensitivity and good taste. In his personal interpretation of historical minimalism, there is a warmth, a presence and a deep involvement, which is extremely rare.” —Sands-Zine (Italy)

“Michael Jon Fink’s A Temperament for Angels (CB0017) is much darker than its title might suggest—informed, as it is, by the harsher concept of terrifying beauty written of by Rilke in the Duino Elegies. Violins, cellos, cymbals, and sampler keyboard create a steely sonic environment well suited to the text that inspired it.” —Molly Sheridan, NewMusicBox (American Music Center)

“From its arresting opening event—widespread intervals, sombre colors, grainy textures—the piece mutates very slowly, ebbing and flowing, gaining or shedding notes, emphasis on complexity. The timbres evoke images of some enormous, natural instrument, whose pipes and contours are sounded by the wafting of random breezes. Another comparison…is with the extraordinary Chas Smith, composer of a number of gloriously colored ‘texture’ pieces, rendered mainly on formidable metal instruments of his own making. Fink’s procedure and aesthetic here are very similar; but his quite different sound sources inevitably produce outcomes that differ in being grittier and more diverse.” —Christopher Ballantine, Int’l Record Review (UK)

“Clouds of rhythmless, sustained sound move through space. The effect is ethereal and at time threatening…. Reminiscent of many early purely electronic pieces, it is amazing how much texture this small ensemble can generate. Hearing this performed live must be quite an experience. In 29 minutes it bathes you is lush spectra of sounds where you may lose all bearings of place and time.” —Richard Friedman, Shuffle Boil

“Beautifully recorded music with suitably artistic packaging…A Temperament or Angels envelopes you in shifting textures, drones, and environments…. [T]his is definitely music worth spending time with.” —Randy Raine-Reusch, Musicworks (Canada)

“This music has been designed to stimulate the active mind and touch the spirit. Fink has created an intense transitory work, akin to something large and enigmatic moving through twilight.” —Chuck van Zyl, Star’s End

“The music has a mysterious character, oniric, surreal. The richness in texture of quite a number of ethereal passages makes it difficult to distinguish where the natural sound of a given instrument finishes and where the electronic sound begins.”Amazing Sounds (Spain)

“Throughout its 28-minute length, this music catches the ear with its juxtaposition of extremes, particularly low versus high, and rough versus smooth, yet its overall texture is metallic.” —Raymond Tuttle, ClassicalNet

The piece evolves around sustained pitches…played with some pastoral touch…. Over the course of the piece, sounds are added by means of sampling until towards the end they make a crescendo and fall back into quietness. Nice piece!” —Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly (Netherlands)

“The 29-minute composition is a slowly but ever evolving dirge…moody and layered throughout, its atmospheres passing from gloomy to meditative and solemn to almost serene. Yes, there are short glimpses of peace in its awe-inspiring strength. A very powerful and evocative work, A Temperament for Angels sounds to me as an ideal bridge between Feldman’s quiet ensembles and harsher, louder forms of string-based minimalism (Maranha, Organum, early O’Rourke…).” —Eugenio Maggi, Chain D.L.K. (Italy)

“Abstract and atmospheric…this brooding soundscape eschews melody for elusively morphing textures and chromatic harmonies until it ends with spectral cymbal shimmers.” —Ron Schepper, Textura and Stylus

“If suggestion is a property of goddesses who wake you up only in the abyss of dreams, Michael Jon Fink has heard these sirens’ singing, levitating in a crystal goblet of divine wines and inebriating perfumes. What kind of mysterious secrets of acoustics have been revealed to him? That’s what you will decipher by immersing in the shimmering tones and frequency beating of A Temperament for Angels.” —Marcelo Aguire, ei magazine

“Start with mists of sound which are mostly acoustic but which have a slight electronic ambience. Hone all this down for maximum plaintive impact. Add harmonic richness with subtle gradations and clear detail. It reminds me a little of bowed piano playing but with more somber moods than you usually find there. A Rilke poem in the liner notes has this to say about what this CD is getting at: ‘…beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror…’ The music here does indicate the combination of beauty and terror that angels have, but the landscape this CD occupies is more the place where angles are on the horizon, before the point of actual contact with humans. All of this may not sound so mystical if you play this record. It is an awe-inspiring effort.” —Richard Grooms, The Improvisor

A Temperament for Angels shows that Fink has learned to practice his compositional art fluently. Enjoy this stately, dignified work. —Exposé

“28 minutes of moody tonalities…. Wafting on a delicate breeze, pensive cello and solemn violins generate an ethereal drone that is astutely boosted by gradually emergent sustained keyboards. These textures remain steadfast, unhurriedly swarming like a friendly fog that hangs overhead with serene conviction. The calmly trembling resonance sways ever so slightly, remaining aloft through determined moderation. While the notes are minimal and elongated, a mood of underlying reverence is laced with an anticipation of celestial affairs, as if heaven is using this tuneage as a conduit to survey earthly endeavors. The music conveys the distinct impression that no judgments are being made, that this heavenly regard is impartial despite its intimacy.” —Sonic Curiosity

“An exaltation of the concept of the music of silence. This is not meant in its literal sense, but in the context of physical, mental, and emotional abstraction.” —altriSuoni (Italy)

“Fink builds an ambient world of gradually evolving harmonic blocks, using multi-tracked violas, cellos, digital sampling and mallet-sustained cymbals. It results in a soundscape that builds and shifts in harmonic content over time, then decrescendos in the end to poignant silence. It is of a piece with many of the Cold Blue single releases in its singular devotion to tonal atmospherics. And so it too has a definite appeal and impact on the listener in the way it constructs a slow moving, ever-changing, ever-present musical world of its very own…. A Temperament for Angels has a Zen kind of focus on the nature of complex tone clusters that has genuine merit and holds up well after many listens. Nice! —Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review