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Bill Evans

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Catherine Christer Hennix: Central Palace Music
Important Records

Catherine Christer Hennix: Live At Issue Project Room
Important Records

Almost three decades separate these two long-form drone works by Berlin-based Swedish-American composer Catherine Christer Hennix (b. 1948), yet her distinctive voice establishes a clear through-line from the earlier work to the later. In both cases, one witnesses the composer drawing on the sounds of other cultures and traditions, including Japanese Gagaku music and thirteenth-century vocal music. For anyone unfamiliar with Hennix, a few details are in order: an early pioneer in Sweden who used main-frame computers to generate composite sound wave forms in the late 60s, she studied with La Monte Young and Hindustani raga master Pandit Pran Nath and led the just intonation live-electronic ensembles Hilbert Hotel and The Deontic Miracle during the 70s. Subsequent to that, she devoted much of her time and energy to mathematical research and served as a professor of mathematics and computer science. In 2003, she returned to computer-generated composite sound wave forms and also formed the just intonation ensemble The Choras(s)an Time-Court Mirage.

A key part of the appeal of these new releases is that each captures one of Hennix's key outfits in action: the earlier one, Central Palace Music, documents a 1976 performance at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm by The Deontic Miracle, which here features Hennix on Renaissance oboe and custom sinewave generators, Peter Hennix on Renaissance oboe, and Hans Isgren on sheng; Live At Issue Project Room, on the other hand, presents the premiere US performance by The Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage at New York's Ultima Festival in 2014. The expanded ensemble in this case features Hennix, Imam Ahmet Muhsin Tüzer, and Amirtha Kidambi on vocals; a brass section comprised of Amir Elsaffan, Paul Schwingenschlögl, Hilary Jeffery, Elena Kakaliagou, and Robin Hayward; and Stefan Tiedje and Marcus Pal on electronics.

At forty-six minutes the shorter recording of the two, Central Palace Music unfolds languorously with the sinewaves initially providing an organ-like drone nucleus and the fluttering oboes and sheng the textural complement. There's definitely a bit of a slow-burn in effect: the trance-inducing material develops with deliberation, Hennix and company clearly committed to allowing the sound to blossom in organic manner and rise and fall as it naturally will. It doesn't lack for incident, however: at the seventeen-minute mark, an audible intensifying in volume and dynamics transpires, and the material grows increasingly raw thereafter. At the halfway mark, the collective sound comes to resemble a heaving mass whose industrial grind feels worlds removed from the work's restrained beginnings, and if anything the music's raw wail convulses even more emphatically as the piece's second half progresses. At such moments, the material suggests that comparisons to LaMonte Young's mid-60s outfit The Theatre of Eternal Music aren't unwarranted.

Live At Issue Project Room presents the immersive, eighty-minute work Blues Alif Lam Mim in the mode of Rag Infinity/Rag Cosmosis (1434 A.H.), which takes no more than a few seconds to place the listener within a mystical Eastern soundworld teeming with shimmering, tambura-like drones and ecstatic vocal undulations. To an even greater degree than Central Palace Music, Live At Issue Project Room mutates, with the first major change arriving eleven minutes in when brass tones deepen the originating sound mass; the clear separations between elements at the outset begin to dissolve, and the collective sound assumes the form of a dense, dream-like swirl. Unexpected moments arise: after the brass rises to a declamatory pitch at the twenty-seven-minute mark, one so huge it threatens to drown the other parts, the material decompresses for a serene episode that sees the brass recede from view and vocal interplay take over; fourteen minutes later, however, we witness the brass instruments indulging in exuberant, polyphonic fanfares. Fluctuations of such kinds occur regularly over the course of the work, whether it be a shift in vocal and instrumental focus or modulations in volume and intensity, and consequently the listener remains engaged despite the piece's uninterrupted presentation.

April 2016