A CLOSER LISTEN: Music for Viola and Electronics
The title may be bland, but the music is not. Music for viola and electronics is music for barren trees and weakening temperatures, shuttered doors and deserted streets. Its elegant beauty arrives just in time to score the starkest segment of fall, when leaves have passed their peak and daylight savings time has begun. This is a lost time, identified by its proximity to holidays, but also a rich time, yielding the last birds, the first frost. Michel Banabila‘s electronics provide the stark backdrop; Oene van Geel‘s viola provides glimpses of life in transition. The center track also includes bass: a throbbing pulse at the center of the set. But one would be forgiven for thinking that bass is present on other tracks as well, especially the booming “Dondergod”, an abrasive selection that sheers slices of sound like branches from a fallen tree. It’s no surprise that the title is Dutch for “thunder.”
Banabila and van Geel met while recording last year’s Cloud Ensemble; the collective also included Machinefabriek and Grzegorz Bojanek. After trading ideas, they decided to work together again. In its softer moments (especially the gorgeous “Sinus en Snaar”), one can detect echoes of Richard Skelton; in its louder moments, Ben Frost comes to mind. Yet this specific combination – viola and electronics – is relatively rare. The humility of each performer is apparent, as composition, improvisation, and shaping duties shift from song to song, man to man: a fluid trade that yields far greater dividends.
As the set progresses, one can hear the season unraveling. The viola protests: may I not continue to play outside? Yet thunderclouds are forming, and there’s no guarantee they contain rain. “Echoes from Hadhramaut” is a stratocumulus cloud preparing to erupt, which it finally does with a bang at 6:39. But then, as if relenting, the duo offers church bells and tentative melodies, leading to “Nothing But Blue Skies”, the album’s sweetest piece. One remembers a hidden truth: that the sky is as blue in winter as it is in summer. Only below can we tell the difference. Perhaps this is why the final piece is titled “Kingdom of Earth”. Finally the (actual) rain begins to fall, a cold precipitation on the verge of change, but Werner is singing in the rain. (Richard Allen)