Olivia Block: composition; Jon Mueller: gong, percussion; Chicago Composers Orchestra: all sounds (Christopher Ramaekers: conductor)
A late trend sees many people ululate – in stylishly political style – about the inequality of attention (read: lesser number of pages) given by new music’s most influential press to female artists. Then, when the moment is right – say, just before an important tour – we get establishment-affiliated voguish starlets on a Wire cover story to “contrast” that affirmation. On the opposite face of the coin – that where earnest research and fundamental collaborations are still considered – Olivia Block has been quietly producing a series of works whose weight and depth are crucial, compositional maturity and full lucidity shown in the approach to the manipulation and spatial relations of the sonic matter. Karren was released in 2013; the fact that I have listened to it only now adds another link to a long chain of mea culpa.
Mostly shaped around studio treatments of orchestral sounds and noises, and including echoes of unidentifiable sources which – by processes of interposition inside the great scheme of things – render the music’s complexion quite unfathomable, “Foramen Magnum” is an impressive score that seems to symbolize the inner excitation preceding a concert. Its itinerary is marked by tangible interferences, unheralded acoustic warfare, human voices, fragments of instrumental tones, sudden chordal explosions, downreaching crescendos, pounding ultra-low frequencies. Block applies layers of computerized impairment – of the granular type – during brief segments. A piece that gives a sense of impeccable order in an apparent chaos, every conceivable useful detail perfectly placed in a no-nonsense mix.
“Opening Night” appears as an utterly coherent continuance in spite of its diversity from the first chapter. The orchestra’s pathos is delivered via ebbing and flowing harmonic conglomerations that, depending on circumstance, exalt certain resonant properties or camouflage the fine details inside gripping swells. The resulting clusters are impelling, almost moving at times; underneath this seemingly grief-stricken environment, percussive traces appear to make the whole less definite. The last minutes are characterized by the disappearance of everything but something sounding like horses galloping underwater (perhaps steps, instead, or other hardly identifiable types of anthropoid motility).
Ultimately, the union between cryptically surprising implementations and intelligent evocation delineates the integrity of this top-class album.