This recording documents two works written for the intrepid janus trio (Nuiko Wadden, harp; Amanda Baker, flute; Beth Meyers, viola). Paul Lansky’s large scale work Book of Memory and Jason Treuting’s Pluck, Bow, Blow both celebrate the modes of sound production of each instrument in the ensemble.
Book of MemoryPaul Lansky
Pluck, Bow, BlowJason Treuting
There are several iconic works that, because of their unconventional instrumentations, pave the way for a whole new repertoire to follow. Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire is one such piece, but maybe an early example is Debussy’s profoundly beautiful Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. Ensembles formed to perform this landmark piece are faced with a dilemma — their repertoire starts with Debussy’s masterpiece and proceeds from there, but it still needs advocacy and commissioning. janus (harpist Nuiko Wadden, flutist Amanda Baker, and violist Beth Meyers) formed in 2002 in Brooklyn with the project of expanding the repertoire for this expressive instrumentation. This recording documents two of the fruits of their labor, Paul Lansky’s large scale work Book of Memory and Jason Treuting’s Pluck, Bow, Blow, an aptly named work that celebrates the modes of sound production of each instrument in the ensemble. Lansky is perhaps best known for being a pioneer in the field of electronic music. In recent years he has turned his attention to writing acoustic music, and eschews alignment with aesthetic camps, or even eras for that matter, in favor of referencing centuries of tradition in fresh ways. He writes, “Book of Memory is a composer’s conversation with older music. These dialogues will sometimes be obvious, but often not.” Lansky connects seven distinct movements with six interludes that set a William Blake poem, and entreat the members of janus to add their voices and small percussion to their performing arsenal. Jason Treuting expands upon this auxiliary concept by including banjo, melodicas, and bowed harp in a clever tryptych that explores the essence and limits of the instrumentation.
Produced, Engineered, Mixed, and Mastered by Lawson White
Assistant Engineer: Francisco Botero
Production Assistant: Gina Vosti
Recorded at Good Child Music Studios, Brooklyn, NY, June 2014 http://www.goodchildmusic.com/studio/
CD Layout and Graphic Design: CLANADA
Brooklyn-based janus was formed in 2002 with the goal of presenting and creating new repertoire for the trio through commissioning projects and works-in-process collaborations. Named after Janus, the Roman god whose double-faced image peers into the past and future, the trio maintains the established tradition for the instrumentation while breaking new ground into unexplored sonic frontiers. Beginning with Debussy and including Toru Takemitsu, André Jolivet, Sophia Gubaidulina and Kaija Saariaho, composers have been allured by this intriguing combination of something bowed, something blown and something plucked.
To date, janus has added over thirty new pieces to the trio library through individual submissions and collaborative projects with universities. Among the composers who have written for janus are Paul Lansky, Caleb Burhans, Anna Clyne, Andrew McKenna-Lee, Angelica Negron, Jason Treuting, Dan Trueman, Dmitri Tymoczko and Barbara White. janus has collaborated with the composition departments from Princeton, Colgate, New York, Cleveland State, Columbia and Cornell Universities.
It's rare enough for one flute-viola-harp recording to see the light of day; it's even more unusual for two to be released on the same date and label. But that recently happened when Book of Memory and Heirlooms: New Music Inspired by Young Children, new collections by janus and Trio Kavak, appeared on New Focus Recordings last November. For the record, flutist Amanda Baker, harpist Nuiko Wadden, and violist Beth Meyers constitute the Brooklyn-based janus, which formed in 2002, whereas flutist Amelia Lukas, harpist Kathryn Andrews, and violist Victor Lowrie make up Trio Kavak. However much the two groups overlap in terms of instrumentation (it bears worth mentioning that on its release janus supplements its three core instruments with banjo, melodica, vocals, and percussion), their releases are fundamentally different.
Don't think for a moment that the flute-harp-viola format of these groups means their playlists are dominated by Renaissance tunes. Both recordings are firmly grounded in the present, with the musicians bringing a modern sensibility to recently created works. The reason for that in part stems from necessity: as pieces written for the trio combination aren't plentiful, janus formed with the idea of building the repertoire for the flute-harp-viola format as a key part of its MO. To that end, the group has added more than twenty new settings to the trio canon, with pieces written for the group by Caleb Burhans, Andrew McKenna-Lee, Angelica Negron, Barbara White, and others. The choice of janus as a group name, by the way, is no accident: the Roman god Janus is marked by a double-faced image that peers into the past and future, the past in janus's case signified by its choice of instrumentation and the future by the material it performs. One of the things that immediately appeals about Book of Memory is that while there are twenty indexed tracks on the release, it features two compositions only (both written for janus, incidentally) and thus feels compact. Lansky's large-scale title composition is obviously the dominant one, but Pluck, Bow, Blow by So Percussion member Jason Treuting has so much charm, its mark proves to be equally strong.
Described by Lansky himself as “a composer's conversation with older music,” Book of Memory playfully combines seven distinct movements and six interludes in striking manner, the work's realization enriched by the addition of voices and percussion. It's within the interludes that the latter elements surface, which leaves the longer movements to concentrate on formal trio arrangements and thus present the members' interactions in a purer form. The general character of the movements is conveyed by titles such as “Antique Cadences,” “Pastoral Counterpoint,” “Scherzo,” and “Lament,” and Baker, Wadden, and Meyers render all thirteen parts with gusto and conviction. Their voices blend superbly, a fact no doubt attributable in part to the many years they've played as a unit, and the clarity of the recording enhances the music's impact, too, when the separation between the three instruments is so well-defined.
Consistent with its title, Pluck, Bow, Blow literally explores the possible modes of sound production associated with each group instrument. Using hocketing, the members' voices collectively recite definitions for the works's three components in the first, third, and fifth parts, with the arresting voice-only “Pluck,” for instance, followed by the related setting “Pluck defined,” which, naturally, limits itself to pluck-generated sounds. To more fully realize the work's concept, Treuting expands on the trio's core sound by adding banjo, melodicas, and bowed harp to the arrangements, such that “Blow” builds from a flute-only intro into a veritable swarm of melodicas. One imagines Treuting's piece as a definite highlight of a typical janus show.
There's little mystery surrounding the conceptual impetus for Trio Kavak's release, with the five composers featured on Heirlooms: New Music Inspired by Young Children having catalyzed the experiences of being new parents and raising young families into compositional form. Much as janus does on Book of Memory, flutist Amelia Lukas (a member of the American Modern Ensemble), harpist Kathryn Andrews (one-half of Duo Scorpio), and violist Victor Lowri (a Mivos Quartet member) bring the composers' works to life with zestful performances that flatter their creators. Once again we're presented with a forward-thinking ensemble dedicate to enriching the flute-harp-viola repertoire with adventurous new material. It's worth noting that the composers involved—Carl Schimmel, Orianna Webb, Armando Bayolo, Adam B. Silverman, and Daniel Kellogg—didn't set out to write child-like works but rather pieces that capture the life-affirming quality of their time with their children and the emotions inspired by those transformative experiences. Moments of tenderness appear, as do exuberant episodes that evoke the innocence and carefree spirit of children at play.
Drawing from a Japanese story involving God dressing as a beggar to test the kindness of a monkey, fox, and rabbit, Schimmel's four-part The Moon Rabbit Syllabary incorporates elements of Japanese children's songs and a Radiohead tune (“Sail to the Moon,” written by Thom Yorke for his own son) into its mystical sound-world. Schimmel's music is at its dreamiest and most mysterious during the second movement (“he gazes mournfully at the waxing moon”), but there's also a pronounced fantastical character to the writing that mirrors a tale involving a rabbit ascending into the night sky. As suggested by its title, Silverman drew inspiration for Would Not Could Not from Dr. Seuss's 1960 book Green Eggs and Ham, even going so far as to transcribe the story into instrumental form, the viola personifying the character Sam and the flute the green-food-detesting character. As a result, Silverman's animated music is driven by ‘dialogue' between the instruments, with the harp acting as an intermediary for the other two.
Dedicated to her young daughter, Webb's The Love We Save threads multiple elements into its eight-minute structure, among them the delight with which a child explores its environment and the contrast between moments of high-energy and restful recharge that characterize an infant's days. Though the music is largely buoyant, the love Webb feels for her child comes through loud and clear in this album highlight. Also affecting is Kellogg's three-part Songs for Grandma, which grew out of the relationship his daughter formed with her grandmother before she passed away and is thus suitably tender in tone, nowhere more so than in the heartfelt movement “Longing.” Moments of levity arise, too, with “Christmas Squirrels and Candy” conveying the joy the two shared during the last Halloween they spent together.
And let's not forget Bayolo's Six Portraits in Flowing Time, a multifaceted, suite-like rendering of the composer's family that encompasses various moods, from joyous (“Giggles”) and mischievous (“The Little Risk Taker”) to ponderous (“Bridal Song”) and elegiac (“A Song Before the End”). As interesting and imaginative as the five composers' works are, they wouldn't be anywhere near as affecting had Trio Kavak not realized them with so much care. One comes away from this fine recording hearing the group as a perfect fit for the material. -- Ron Schepper, January 2017
Finally! The chamber group known as Janus is responsible for one of 2010's most delightful releases in any genre, I Am Not. Now the flute/viola/harp trio (Amanda Baker, Beth Meyers, and Nuiko Wadden, respectively) has emerged with a second full-length, Book of Memory, and it is a charmer.
Book of Memory, out now on New Focus Recordings, sees the trio reunited with composer Jason Treuting – better known as one of the four players in So Percussion – whose I Am Not (Blank) was the thread running through Janus's first album. The closely related piece he offers here, entitled Pluck, Blow, Bow, requires that the trio pick up multiple instruments, including banjo and melodica, as well as speak aloud in hocketing patterns.
The rest of the album is given over to the titular piece by Paul Lansky, a composer most famous for such electronic works as his delicious Idle Chatter series of gibberish pieces and for the looped sample of Mild und Leise, his first computer piece, that found its way onto Radiohead's Kid A album. But unlike so many of his celebrated peers, Lansky emerged from the electronic music research laboratories of the 1960s not to smash music into subatomic particles of integrally serializable information, but rather to explore the grammar of Western harmony and rhythm.
No wonder, then, that in recent decades, Lansky has turned to composing for live performers. Treuting's So Percussion, for whom Lansky wrote the large-scale Threads, is a notable example, but the titular piece on Book of Memory allows him to indulge fully his most neoclassical impulses. This fondly nostalgic suite also calls on the ever-adventurous Janus to pluck, blow, bow, sing, and play just a little percussion, managing to reward both the boundless versatility and the clear, intense focus of aesthetic purpose that they display throughout both their jewel of a debut and its more than welcome successor. — Daniel Stephen Johnson, Q2 Music, January 2, 2017