Known in the avant-garde circles as half of FURT – the electroacoustic duo with Paul Obermayer – and the life partner of that amazing warbler named Ute Wassermann, Richard Barrett is among the last measurable examples of contemporary composer impervious to latent negative responses to allegedly unfeasible solutions and unrealistic timbral juxtapositions, thus reinforcing the purpose of a music that makes pulp of the adjective “predictable”. In Adrift – publishing date 2009 – Barrett confirms his aspiration of mixing written structures and interpretative flexibility by the involved instrumentalists, presenting us with 80 minutes at a level of complexity high enough to reject surface-loving listeners. Meanwhile, he maintains certain salient acoustic characters in sight, working wonders with ears attuned to the volatile quality of the materials and the randomness of our very existence. The three featured pieces are dedicated to personalities who, in a way or another, are recognized as influences: Mauricio Kagel, Paul Rutherford and Vinko Globokar.
“Codex IX”, performed by Elision, is quite testing at 36 minutes yet is unquestionably a well-built assertion, completely devoid of weak points. Modern chamber disquisitions and momentous electronics are complemented by shards of electric guitar in a constantly mutating agglomerate of dissonant nomenclatures, stretchy clusters and, believe it or not, barely broken tranquillity. The frantic alterations of reality defining some of the most convoluted sections – all instruments ruthlessly pitch-transposed and modified in their grain and velocity – reveal an undeviating hunt for dynamic noncompliance and a still visible will of keeping things entirely logical nonetheless.
The title track is a “simpler” proposition, in that Barrett’s modifying apparatuses are paired with Sarah Nicolls’ piano. The latter performs a notated score called “Lost”, whose evocative mystery is enhanced by the parallel materialization of a “transformed and reordered recording” of the same page. The coupling of these different versions represent a suggestion for the musicians to improvise, which they do with the sort of articulated distinction that only artists allowed to the utmost peaks of reciprocal listening can bring to the table. An inexplicably mesmerizing chapter, leaving even trained addressees at a complete loss in terms of description: think about morphing shadows and serendipitous events in an ancient museum’s room, and you’re halfway there.
“Codex VII” features Belgian ensemble Champs D’Action and students from the Conservatories of Antwerp and Gent. Starting with a distinct sense of ominous suspension – directly caused by the use of a gradual string glissando – this episode is nearly less definable than the preceding ones. We acknowledge slight shifts, sudden surprises and the total exploitation of the orchestral palette according to transitory needs. At any rate the puzzlement lingers on, the heart responding to the grave atmospheres and sunless vistas generated by the large gathering of timbres (and modifications thereof) deployed in ever-clear designs, either pre-conceived or absolutely unforeseen. Again, inscrutability prevails, as to persuade of the inevitability of additional tries.
A fundamental release, highlighting the talent of an unsung paladin of intelligent density. Don’t let it engraved in the rocky mountain of anonymity, for it belongs in the genre’s upper echelon.