Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
at66 Richard Glover - Logical Harmonies
1. Logical Harmonies 2 3:50
Philip Thomas (piano)
2. Beatings in a Linear Process 6:02
3. Contracting Triads in Temperaments from 12 - 24 5:17
Bob Gilmore (keyboard)
4. Cello with Clarinet and Piano 6:50
Seth Woods (cello) Jonathan Sage (clarinet) Philip Thomas (piano)
5. Imperfect Harmony 10:38
Dominic Lash (double bass)
6. Gradual Music 9:00
7. Logical Harmonies 1 5:26
Philip Thomas (piano)
Total Time: 46:55
Interview with Richard Glover
Logical Harmonies is an accurate title for a disc of what is evidently a kind of process music. It also recalls Tom Johnson's Rational Melodies. Are those references - to process music and Tom Johnson - things that you relate to?
What I enjoy about process is the ability to build a concept, which - if the concept is right - then needs no tinkering from me. The few other decisions are practicalities; generally, the fewer extra decisions I have to make, the stronger the piece seems to me. Again: if the concept is right, then from my experience, musicians know the best way to realise it. That also comes down to having been fortunate to end up working with the right musicians.
From a construction viewpoint, process offers a satisfyingly flat surface to the entire structure, especially when it is made as gradual as the nature of the process allows. Of course, upon experience this is usually anything but the case, as, aside from the variances in sonic parameters which result from both the process and the performance, our own listening approaches develop in accordance with the manner in which the process continues.
Yes, there are links with Tom Johnson in that we both seem to be interested in making process audible. What seems to bother me a lot at the moment is working with an iterative structure that could - logically - only be conceived in the way it exists now. No arbitrary beginning or end points, no arbitrary note choices, dynamics (play it at the dynamic at which the music is most clear) etc.
It turns out that Tom Johnson actually has a piece called Logical Harmonies, but in that instance, his are logical in a very different way to mine.
That’s interesting. You could obviously get the flattest possible / ideal realisation of any particular musical process if you realised the piece electronically. You would then eliminate the sonic variables / imperfections that creep into any performance on acoustic instruments. But for me that music would be a great deal less interesting and enjoyable. Is that something that you’d agree with, and have you ever composed a process piece electronically?
Well, to be clear, I’m talking about the flatness, the evenness, of the process at the construction level, which I feel is entirely different to the experiential level. A process which, when passing to an interpreter as instruction, is entirely comprehensible, anticipatory, and could not conclude in any other manner than which it does.
In terms of the realisation of these processes, I only ever anticipate for them to be performed by human performers (on specific sound sources), such that the individual nature of that performer/ensemble’s approach will be revealed, and become a central focus of the experience. All the imperfections which you describe, I see as individualities, from both the performer and their instrument. It may be clear by now why creating a realisation of a process electronically isn’t what I do - I enjoy make music by generating instructions for others to realise.
I aim for the end result to reveal some things about the situation, and everything involved in it - this could be regarding the listeners’ perceptual systems, the nature of performance, the nature of harmony, the nature of the performance space, the nature of interaction. I choose to do this via performers with instruments; others do it very well with electronics.
Yes, that makes a lot of sense. Moving on to the CD itself, I think it’s absolutely clear that the solo works are all process pieces in which patterns are working themselves out. But to my ears at least, this is less clear with the ensemble pieces. If I didn’t know already, I’m not at all sure that I’d realise that, say, Gradual Music was a process piece, and I like the variety that this gives across the disc as a whole. Do the ensemble pieces feel different to you too, or do you hear them as unfolding processes in the same way as with the solo works?
Yes, I agree that the ensemble pieces on this disc are experienced a little differently to the solo pieces. Previously I used to write many more ensemble pieces than solo, as I was interested in the surface phenomena feasible from an ensemble playing in close clusters, in which individual voices were lost within the global sound. Although recent solo pieces have attempted to make the process clearly audible, the concern of process in construction of the ensemble pieces, with a clear audible closure, has always been very important to me. The issue of arbitrary beginning and ending points is still just as important.
One of the main concerns with ensemble pieces has always been the level of homogeneity capable from the instrumental combinations. For instance, Gradual Music, for wind, brass and ebowed piano, could achieve a certain level of timbral consistency across the global soundworld, such that instruments wouldn’t stand out significantly from above the mass of sound. This allows construction of a piece with continuous pitch clusters wherein the surface of the sound becomes much more apparent due to the instrumental blend, and the ensemble becomes a carrier for indeterminate surface phenomena.
For Cello with Clarinet and Piano, less homogenisation is possible (the lack of other string and wind instruments mean they do not blend nearly as much as in Gradual Music). Therefore I need to make the piece based around a gesture which links the timbres and performative actions of the three instruments, and place that gesture in a pitch structure; in this case, a simple arc form. The heterogeneous nature of the ensemble is a feature of the piece, but the repetition of the instrumental combination in each gesture means that, for me, the focus moves onto the impact of pitch towards these combinations. The instruments, and their ensemble combination, are again acting only as a carrier for something else.
Ensemble pieces bring about an interest in the resultant sonorities from the combination of instruments; however, through sustaining tones and iterative processes, I attempt to shift the emphasis towards the sounds and patterns which emerge from the process – in a very similar way to the solo pieces.
Can I step back a bit and ask how you first came to contemporary music?
When Dave Smith had us perform Cardew’s Great Learning at the end of the first day of our undergraduate degree!
I’ve always been drawn much more towards the overall sonority of something, rather than lines, lyrics or other things. I’m the chords guy on keyboard in bands I’ve played with. What I enjoyed about chord progressions are the capabilities of gradual change; rather than one thing amongst many drawing the focus, you listen to the overall sound shifting. Whatever ethos is behind that, is clearly what led me to enjoying gradual harmonic change, rather than the other way round. If you want to make links between all the songs I used to make which were just chord progressions all sharing the same upper pitch, and the process music on this disc – go for it. ‘Process’ has only been a word I have identified with more (relatively) recently, having followed my own interests which led me to people like Tom Johnson, James Tenney, and Alvin Lucier.
As well as process itself, do you also have a particular interest in harmony, as the disc title suggests? It’s an aspect of music that is perhaps underexamined in much contemporary music.
Harmony is very important to me. I am always drawn towards two or more simultaneous tones, as that offsets the focus from being on just one of them. I feel that combinations of tones can place a clear focus upon the result of that combination, rather than the individual nature of each tone.
In the majority of my pieces, the processes I use are designed to transform the harmony; all sonic and other phenomena occur as a result of this. Where the piece is created using heterogenous instrumental combinations, pitch clusters reveal the harmonies inherent in blending these differing timbres.
I enjoy the nuanced transformation attainable through dealing with harmony; alterations from within the sound which cannot be identified as emanating from one particular element, or line, but gradually alter the overall nature of the sonority each time. The focus upon the global, the whole, allows deeper inspection of everything else.
“In the interview on the Another Timbre site, references are made, with regard to Glover's music, to that of Tom Johnson, James Tenney and Alvin Lucier. These seem quite reasonable though, at least on the basis of this recording, my first experience with Glover (unless I'm forgetting something, always a strong possibility), his work stands apart in very beautiful ways. While process oriented, the pieces here are entirely acoustic which might tend to align him more with Johnson but there's also a clear concern with sonic beauty, in an almost classical sense, that's at odds with Johnson's list-making that adopts a more remote stance. I also detect subtle allusions to classic forms, again just a step or two to the side of the almost clinical presentation that can occur (not without its own attractions, certainly) in a piece by Johnson or Lucier.
That said, these are seven extraordinarily wonderful compositions.
The disc is constructed alternating four solo works with three for ensembles, bookended by "Logical Harmonies 2" and "Logical Harmonies 1", performed by Philip Thomas on piano. Without any external knowledge, and given the steady, stately tempo of the work, I heard it as a kind of processional, connecting it to compositions by Satie in his Rosicrucian period (the Ogives, for example) or even certain Skempton pieces. But for all its regularity in pacing, the shifting chords inject absolutely absorbing harmonies that almost flitted by, one after another, always changing subtly, sometimes sweet, sometimes sour. It wasn't until I located the score that I realized the structure of the work did indeed follow a rather strict and simple pattern, but one that (crucially, I think) allows the pianist leeway in choosing whether or how to invert the triads as prescribed, which Thomas does brilliantly. The effect, for me, again recalling the processional feeling, is of walking through a large church-like interior, the light through the stained glass windows changing ever so slightly as one proceeds, one's perspective always shifting, being very aware of the orthogonals and hues. An insert is included with the disc showing a color wheel, divided into eight shades, rotating an eighth of a cycle each turn against a background of the same colors, an apt enough visual analogue. "Logical Harmonies 1", which closes the disc, is essentially the same except that the roles of the hands have been exchanged, the left doing the wandering instead of the right. Thomas takes it at a somewhat slower tempo, every bit as lovely as the first. I can listen to either or both for hours.
"Beatings in a Linear Process", for clarinet (Mark Bradley), violin (Mira Benjamin) and cello (Andrea Stewart) is more in line with some of Lucier's experiments in gradual and slight pitch shifting. The score calls for the strings to hold one note, the clarinet entering at a given pitch and the strings to, slowly, adjust as closely as possible to it while maintaining those original notes. This is repeated five times, the clarinet lowering his pitch one step each iteration in microtonal increments. The harmonics thus generated are utterly immersive, as is the tension between the held and moving lines occupying such close proximity. I can't locate a score for "Cello with Clarinet and Piano" (Seth Woods, Jonathan Sage and Thomas, respectively) but it seems to work on similar principles, though here in blocks of about 25 seconds separated by silence. The piano strikes a firm note and holds it as the cello plays a steady line. Several seconds in, the clarinet enters at a slightly lower pitch and the cello seems to adjust to it. The isolation of the sections almost necessarily encourages listening as a series of images, each related but carrying different shades. It also coveys a vague emotional impact, especially in the final sequence, where the downward bent feels quite melancholy. [I later located a score for "Violin with Clarinet and Piano" which appears to be basically the same work] Both are fantastic compositions and, I should mention, recorded incredibly well, each layer of grain audible.
Having only my ears to guide me, I think "Contracting Triads in Temperaments form 12-24" is performed (here, by Bob Gilmore) inside the piano, delicately and with supreme precision, plucking at sets of three strings. The effect is harp-like, very pure. As with the solo piano music, the chords, similarly paced, waver giddily between traditionally comfortable and almost justly intoned--several times I felt associations with Partch's kithara-type instruments but also koto and kayagum music. Again, by (not so) simply cycling through a pattern, Glover manages to reveal something very special. While listening to this piece, I tended to think of a catalogue of crystals.
There's a score for Gradual Music on-line, though it renders vertically on-screen. The septet (musikFabrik: Marco Blaauw, trumpet; Christine Chapman, horn; Bruce Collings, trombone; Ulrich Löffler, piano; Axel Porath, viola; Hannah Weirich, violin; Dirk Wietheger, cello) manifest as a large, pulsating cell, glissandi drifting slowly into and across one another. It sounds like an enormous organ chord encompassing dozens of clearly held, fluctuating notes, almost electronic (ebows on the piano are called for in the score; I take it they're employed here, though not cited in the credits). I pick up something of Feldman's large ensemble works ("For Samuel Beckett", say) but as orchestrated by Eliane Radigue in a particularly robust mood.
I've saved my favorite for last (though I love each and every composition): "Imperfect Harmony" (score) for solo double bass, played insanely well by Dominic Lash. As with the piano pieces, Glover gives the performer ample ability to choose his/her pathway toward the intended goal and while I've only heard this rendition, I have to think it's a credit to Lash's sheer musicality that it feels so rich and natural. The "steps" are taken in a loosely regular sequence of arco passages that last about five seconds each with perhaps two seconds between them. Low strings, just so luscious, often quavering with an intensity that has you worrying about sympathetic vibrations with your speakers or other household objects, not to mention the body of Lash's bass. I can't tell you how often I've placed myself between those speakers and just luxuriated. I detect a bit of background sound as well which enhances the sound even more, cementing it in the real world, where it belongs. While the four dyads are evenly split between ones moving upward and downward, I also feel a general down trajectory here, imparting a kind of forlorn quality. A stunningly great work.
As is the entire release. Easily one of my favorite albums of the year, of many years.”
Brian Olewnick - Just Outside
“Richard Glover’s ‘gradual music’ combines brass, strings and EBowed piano in richly droning, gently undulating pitch clusters. It is realised here by the septet musikFabrik, although the sonic character of the piece suggests the stretching of a single gigantic accordion. Underlying design is submerged beneath this music’s opaque surface, but Glover’s fascination with audible process is fully evident on four solo performances on Logical Harmonies. Two are by pianist Philip Thomas, one by Bob Gilmore playing keyboard, the other by double bassist Dominic Lash. As with Tom Johnson’s comparably concept based Rational Melodies (1982), these unassuming and apparently matter of fact pieces walk a thin line between crystalline clarity and diagrammatic sterility. They stay on the right side in part because Glover entrusted them to safe hands, but mostly because the defining logic of their development is inseparable from their harmonic coloration, which opens onto another dimension. Two attractively poised trio compositions occupy a middle ground between these translucent, tinted sketches and the compacted layering of gradual music.”
Julian Cowley, The Wire
“‘Logical Harmonies’ marks the emergence of a new voice with something important to say. Logical Harmonies is a series of piano works (Philip Thomas), a stately sequence of common chords held at a stately pulse that suddenly eat each other as unexpected and unprepared harmonic slippages appear from nowhere. Glover’s score is notated with letters representing chords and the pianist is invited to invert the chords as he/she wishes. And each piece, it turns out, is a similar call to action, scores as written sets of instructions guiding listening processes. Beatings in a Linear Process requires violin and cello to bend towards sustained pitches on a clarinet, while the marvellous solo double bass piece Imperfect Harmony, playd like a dream by Dominic Lash, asks the player to move between cells of adjacent dyads (two note chords), nudging their pitches closer each time. Sounds good on paper? It’s even better in reality.”
Philip Clark, The Gramophone
“Logical Harmonies consists of seven compositions by Richard Glover, a composer based in Huddersfield where he was a research fellow in the university music department, teaching in composition and music technology and, in 2010, completing his PhD in Music Composition with Bryn Harrison.
The album is not a suite, its central five tracks being vastly different to one another and performed by five different performers—two solo, three ensembles; those five tracks are bookended by the remarkably similar "Logical Harmonies 2" and "Logical Harmonies 1" (which, illogically, respectively open the album and close it). That pair share certain characteristics with "Vessels." Both played by Philip Thomas, each of them consists of regularly sounded piano chords which evolve slowly and then stop without having reached any obvious climax or resolution. As above, it is as if the pieces are part of a greater whole and could have continued indefinitely.
Thomas is featured again in an ensemble on the central track, "Cello with Clarinet and Piano," his piano joined in a trio by Sean Woods' cello and Jonathan Sage's clarinet. The piece consists of a series of notes struck and sustained on the piano, with the cello and then the clarinet following in its wake with subtly modulated notes of their own. For nearly seven minutes, that comparatively simple formula makes seductive listening, laden with great emotional impact.
In fact, that sums up the strength of this album—all of its tracks seem ridiculously simple but each of them is affecting in a subtly different way. All seven are utterly compelling, making it difficult to say which is the best. By a nose, that honour just goes to the longest track, the contrarily titled "Imperfect Harmony," a solo bass performance by an Another Timbre favourite, Dominic Lash. In it, he bows a series of dyads each consisting of an open string and a stopped one, moving from an opening dyad to a destination one by a glissando on the stopped string, with each repeat the opening and destination dyads get closer. This gives the piece immediate surface appeal—enhanced by the physicality of the bass tones—plus enough detail to listen out for and make repeat listenings rewarding. Richard Glover certainly sounds like he is going to become habit forming...”
John Eyles, All About Jazz
“Richard Glover est un compositeur anglais, de sensibilité proche du minimalisme américain et de wandelweiser - ce qui n'étonnera personne vu le label qui le publie. Avec Logical Harmonies, sept pièces insrtumentales sont réunies pour une suite autour de divers procédés d'écriture liés à l'harmonie et aux recherches sonores.
Les Logical Harmonies qui ouvrent et concluent le disque sont deux courtes pièces pour piano réalisées par Philip Thomas. Sur un tempo assez lent (à 60 environ) et statique, le pianiste plaque des accords (deux tierces majeures) au même rythme, sur un ambitus réduit à deux octaves. Les accords évoluent de quarte en quarte (do, fa, si bémol, mi bémol, etc), et sont joués avec la même dynamique, le même touché, etc (pédale "sensible et consistante"). Une pièce basée sur une progression harmonique originale mais simple et réduite en somme, une pièce extérieure à toute forme de virtuosité sans aucun doute. Ce qui est étonnant, c'est que chaque accord révèle une nouvelle facette sonore : que ce soit le timbre ou le caractère, chaque paramètre est modifié en toute simplicité. Si le procédé d'écriture et la réalisation de cette pièce sont très mécaniques et statiques, le résultat brille de mouvements et d'évolutions inattendues, on passe d'une expérience sonore à une autre à presque chaque changement d'accord.
Puis on retrouve le pianiste Philip Thomas aux côtés de Seth Woods (violoncelle) et Jonathan Sage (clarinette) pour une pièce sobrement intitulée "Cello with clarinet and piano" (initialement composée pour un violon). Une très belle pièce microtonale où piano et violoncelle jouent une note tandis que la clarinette fait un glissando autour de cette note, avant que le violoncelle ne redescende doucement. Il s'agit encore d'une pièce assez courte, elle n'est composée que de quelques évènements microtonaux séparés par des silences. Tout se joue dans le glissando, dans la persistance de la note au piano, puis dans la lente fuite et le doux grincement des clarinette et violoncelle. L'Ensemble Portmantô (Mark Bradley à la clarinette, Mira Benjamin au violon et Andrea Stewart au violoncelle) propose également la réalisation d'une pièce à tendance microtonale, intitulée "Beatings in a linear process". Les deux cordes jouent une note chacune qu'ils tiennent durant toute la performance, puis introduisent une note autour de laquelle la clarinette va jouer des variations microtonales. Ici encore, le procédé d'écriture se concentre sur la permanence des notes, et l'apparition de variations microtonales qui vont venir enrichir les notes, les masquer, les couvrir, les mettre en avant, ou simplement les faire vibrer en fonction de leur hauteur. "Gradual Music", interprétée par le musikFabrik (Marco Blaauw, Christine Chapman, Bruce Collings, Ulrich Löffler, Axel Porath, Hannah Weirich et Dirk Wietheger), est une partition que je n'ai pas vu. Le procédé d'écriture semble être encore une fois proche puisqu'on entend les cordes se maintenir sur certaines notes, puis opérer de légers glissandis et de subtiles variations microtonales, tout comme les vents par ailleurs. Sauf qu'ici, la formation instrumentale est encore plus dense, avec un piano, trois cordes frottées et trois cuivres et le son prend une ampleur magnifique. L'ambiance est proche de Phill Niblock ou d'Eliane Radigue, mais le son est aussi pourvu d'une sorte d'instabilité et de fragilité sublimes. Ces trois pièces jouent chacune en tout cas sur une approche microtonale de l'harmonie et révèlent chacune à leur manière des univers soniques et perceptifs uniques et beaux.
Et pour finir, deux solos. Le premier est une pièce réalisée par Bob Gilmore au clavier numérique, intitulée "Contracting triads in temperaments from 12-24". Proche des "Logical Harmonies 1 & 2", je me serais bien passé de cette pièce où les tierces se succèdent sans consistance. Puis vient le tour de Dominic Lash (contrebasse) qui réalise superbement "Imperfect harmony". C'est devenu une marque de fabrique sur another timbre, quand Lash réalise des compositions en solo, elles sont magistrales (je suis encore bien marqué par la pièce d'Eva-Maria Houben qu'il a publié il y a un peu plus d'un an). Ici, le procédé est encore microtonal même si la pièce ressemble aux "Logical Harmonies". Dominic Lash joue une suite de diades avec une corde ouverte et de même durée, sur un tempo lent qui ne bouge pas, avec des pauses égales entre chaque cellules. Le principe est de laisser une des deux notes glisser vers une autre note, de manière sensible et subtile, avec un glissando. On retrouve l'harmonie persistante et la variation microtonale, le procédé se révèle toujours aussi riche, mais c'est surtout la réalisation qui est impressionnante ici. Le son de Dominic Lash est extrêmement large, ample, dense et profond (on croirait entendre un orchestre!), sa réalisation est complètement envoutante et très riche soniquement, en plus d'être très sensible et poétique. Une pure beauté.
Bref, pour une première approche de Richard Glover, je suis comblé. Ce jeune compositeur anglais mène des investigations dans les domaines instrumentaux, harmoniques et microtonaux avec simplicité mais force. Chaque idée et chaque procédé d'écriture sont simples, mais parfaitement adéquats à l'expérience sonore recherchée, ce qui fait toute leur force. Les univers sonores investis par Glover se révèlent dès lors riches, créatifs, et beaux. Vivement conseillé.”
Julien Héraud, Improv-Sphere