Ryan Teague: Causeway
Sonic Pieces

As the crystalline guitar sounds of Ryan Teague's Causeway fill the room, an elephant appears, one that must be dealt with before the recording's many positive qualities can be enumerated. Said elephant in the room is, of course, the music's similarity—the less charitable might say indebtedness—to the music of Steve Reich and more precisely the New York-based composer's Electric Counterpoint. That 1987 piece, which infamously weaves twelve guitar (and two electric bass guitars) into a gorgeous tapestry, could be regarded as a template for many of the pieces on Teague's recording: while admittedly he uses acoustic guitars in contrast to the electrics (obviously) heard in Reich's piece, there's a similar, intricate layering of guitar patterns, and a similar through-composed character to that layering too. “High Knoll,” for instance, is not only earmarked in its patterns by the chiming, percussive attack of Electric Counterpoint but even includes the kind of pulsating wave-like movements that so indelibly characterize Reich's work; in this case, the differences between the Teague composition and Reich's are almost too close for comfort. By contrast, the stately waltz “Undone” impresses not only for its lilting quality but for how it distances itself from Reich while nevertheless still building itself up from multiple layers. At such moments, Causeway would seem to have more in common with the chamber folk of another celebrated guitarist, James Blackshaw, than the revered composer of Music For Eighteen Musicians and Different Trains.

However, there are also key differences that distance the Teague recording, the Cambridge-based composer's follow-up to the debut album Coins & Crosses that appeared on Type Records five years ago, from Reich's. Teague often subtly expands the sonic palette beyond his acoustic guitars (exemplifed by the phasing treatments that appear during “White Nights”), and there are moments when he appears to depart ever so slightly from the strict through-composition style of Reich's composition. As a result, while Causeway includes formally composed exercises such as “Loophole (Figure 1),” it also features a stirring pastoral beauty like “Singular,” which, while still precisely structured, seems to breathe its melancholic air a little more naturally.

June 2011