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at220  Frank Denyer  ‘Screens’

Five compositions dating from between 1973 and 2021 (!) all beautifully played by Octandre Ensemble

The CD comes with a 10-page booklet about the music written by Christopher Mason

1 Broken Music  (1990)       14:38

For flute, contra-bassoon, melodica, cello, harp, banjo & two percussionists

2 Unison 1  (1973)                5:44

Version for female voice, flute, clarinet, violin & viola

3 Screens  (2017/18)           14:31

For female voice, flute, violin, viola, two percussionists & speaker

4 Unison 3  (1973)                 5:58

Version for male voice, bass flute, clarinet, viola & cello

5-9  Five Views of the Path  (2020/21)      20:31

For female voice, violin, three flutes, mandolin & two percussionists

Youtube extract - Unison 1            Youtube extract - Broken Music

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Extracts from the booklet by Christopher Mason accompanying the CD

An Unfamiliar Terrain

Frank Denyer’s music is full of questions, but never pretends to easy answers. Rather, it offers us a fluid space for imaginative reflection on the nature of music and the fragile condition of human culture more generally. Sometimes these questions are - or appear to be - benign ‘compositional questions’, such as how to create a particular blend of colour within an ensemble (as in Unisons), or how to create subtle timbral changes through spatial disposition (as in Screens), but behind such particular questions, which give their creative spark to individual pieces, there lurks a bigger and more troubling question, strikingly exemplified on this disc by the seemingly incongruous array of instruments that comprise Broken Music, Screens and Five Views of the Path.

It is a question of how to meaningfully cohere the diverse, and sometimes conflicting, raw elements of our contemporary awareness into an authentic - one might almost say truthful - musical expression, in the midst of a world where the very context of our artistic and cultural experience is so heavily mediated by coercive commercial and political forces that we can never be quite sure that quiet/individual voices will even be heard, however urgent their message. This artistic quest is informed not only by Denyer’s sense of historical crisis within the tradition of Western composition, but by his extensive ethnomusicological fieldwork through which he has been in close contact with, and documented, traditional cultures which have since been largely obliterated by so-called ‘progress’. Such first-hand experience of barely-noticed cultural loss has undoubtedly strengthened Denyer’s resolve to continue the quest. As Bob Gilmore put it in 2003: “His whole concern with musical instruments, new, modified or nearly extinct, can perhaps be seen as a metaphor for the larger question of what can be salvaged, artistically, from the chaos of civilisation as we begin a new century.”  The century may not be so new now, but this need to re-evaluate the essentials of music-making through the lens of atypical resources continues to define Denyer’s ever-searching artistic attitude....

The works collected here span almost fifty years of creative activity, and a wide sonic palette, yet they are connected by a thread that has remained constant at the heart of Denyer’s music since the early 1970’s, namely melody. Denyer’s insistence on the primacy of the horizontal direction of music was in stark contrast to the prevailing musical environment when it first became a compositional preoccupation, as he explains: “Following some leads that came from writing and re-writing A Book of Emblems and Songs I found with the Unison set that I had somehow strayed into, what seemed at the time, an unfamiliar musical terrain. Remember that at this stage I was just an innocent, tentatively trying to absorb this new situation and find my way about.”  This attraction to the possibilities of ‘unfamiliar terrain’ conveys itself, in the Unisons, through the timeless freshness of the melodic language, which eschews any sense of pre-determined structure in favour of an intangible quality where the melody seems to discover itself as it ebbs and flows, and occasionally - for brief moments - splits in two.”

                                      (extract from the booklet accompanying the CD, written by Christian Mason

                                        If you want a pdf file of the booklet, email  info(at)anothertimbre(dot)com  )

Frank Denyer

Artwork: detail of ‘Among the Flames IV’ by Fintan Whelan