Loadbang, a unique New York based ensemble of bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone, baritone voice, has been energetically expanding the repertoire for their instrumentation since their formation in 2008. Lungpowered features works by composers Alex Mincek, David Brynjar Franzson, Reiko Fueting, Alexandre Lunsqui, William Lang, and Scott Worthington that engage with breath, wind, and air as it passes through the instruments in conventional and unconventional ways.
|08||Number May Be Defined|
Number May Be Defined
|09||Longitudinal Study #1|
Longitudinal Study #1
|10||Land of Silence|
Land of Silence
|11||There Might Be One More|
There Might Be One More
“In an artistic world that prizes the sleek, loadbang glows with assymetry. Instruments of brass, wood, and flesh. Acoustic music named for a mechanistic impulse command in electronic music software.”
- Ian Power, from the booklet notes
New York based ensemble loadbang has been expanding the repertoire for its unique instrumentation of bass clarinet, trombone, trumpet, and baritone voice since its formation in 2008. Their new release features works that engage with the broad range of musical applications of breath, wind, and air, from their conventional use with wind instruments, to whispers, mouth sounds, and extended techniques. Composers Alexandre Lunsqui, Scott Worthington, Alex Mincek, David Brynjar Franzson, Reiko Füting, and William Lang treat the ensemble as a living, breathing organism; as one instrument’s sound emerges in a crescendo with the wah of a cup mute, another punctuates the entrance with a pop or click. Brazilian composer Alexandre Lunsqui’s three companion pieces “Guttural 1-3” starts with rhythmically virtuosic passages where the instruments mimic deft syllabic writing for the voice. The four compressed movements of Scott Worthington’s “Infinitive” are at times reminiscent of Stravinsky’s haunting late work, “Requiem Canticles”. Delving deeply into closely spaced, microtonal textural chords, Worthington creates a profoundly intimate atmosphere with very limited materials. Alex Mincek, one of the directors of new music collective Wet Ink Ensemble, returns the program to the more playful side of loadbang’s expressive palate, as muted brass comment on breathless phrasing in the voice, over an accompaniment that suggests an off- kilter jazz bass line. Reiko Fueting is interested in exploring the layers of memory and the transformational power of repetition in his work. In “Land of Silence”, we hear material considered from every angle, as small details accumulate and expand Füting’s triggered machines of sound. Füting’s process echoes the way our mind pores over memories from several angles, adding and subtracting information along the way. William Lang, the trombonist for the group, contributes the final work, an Alvin Lucier inspired meditation on sound, frequency, and beatings, played by loadbang on four harmonicas. The harmonica is an instrument whose simplicity is a perfect manifestation of loadbang’s work -- inhalation, exhalation, and all sounds in between are integrated into the fabric of the compositions for this unique group. Beyond its idiosyncratic instrumentation, loadbang has assembled a repertoire that mines the expressive possibility of sounds that we instinctively understand as intimate and hyper-personal. By marrying timbres generated by our mouths, lips, and lungs with the current aesthetic concerns of six cutting edge composers, loadbang has achieved what every new music ensemble strives for - viscerally impactful music that makes no concessions or compromises.
loadbang has premiered more than 200 works, including many written by members of the ensemble. Other composers who have written originals and new arrangements for loadbang include Pulitzer Prize winners Charles Wuorinen and David Lang, Guggenheim Fellowship winner Alex Mincek, Eve Beglarian, Nick Didkovsky, Reiko Füting, and Andy Akiho and Alexandre Lunsqui, who were both recently commissioned by the New York Philharmonic. Not content to dwell solely in the realm of notated music, loadbang is known for its searing and unpredictable improvisations, exploring the edges of instrumental and vocal timbre and technique, and blurring the line between composed and extemporaneous music. To this end, they have embarked on a project to record improvisations and works written by members of the ensemble. These recordings are designed, fabricated, and released in hand-made limited editions. They can also be heard on a 2012 release of the music by John Cage on Avant Media Records, a 2013 release of the music of loadbang member Andy Kozar on ANALOG Arts Records which was called ‘virtuosic’ by The New Yorker, and a 2014 release on ANALOG Arts Records titled Monodramas.
loadbang is dedicated to education and cultivation of an enthusiasm for new music. They have worked with students ranging from elementary schoolers in the New York Philharmonic's Very Young Composers program and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids Program to college aged student composers at institutions including Princeton University, Cornell University, New York University, Yale University, Peabody Conservatory, and the Manhattan School of Music. They are in residence at the Greenwich House Music School in New York City and the Charlotte New Music Festival."
With many a classical recording, whether it be one featuring traditional or contemporary works, part of the critical process involves assessing the balance between two aspects: the performers and the works performed. Without wishing to take anything away from the composers whose works are presented on Lungpowered, it's loadbang that's clearly the primary focal point on this release. The explanation is simple: if there's another ensemble comprised of a bass clarinetist, trumpeter, trombonist, and baritone vocalist, I've yet to hear of it. The NY-based quartet has premiered more than 200 works since its 2008 inception, many by the members of loadbang and others by the likes of Charles Wuorinen, David Lang, Eve Beglarian, Andy Akiho, and Nick Didkovsky. On this particular release, works by Alexandre Lunsqui, Scott Worthington, Alex Mincek, David Brynjar Franzson, Reiko Füting, and loadbang member William Lang are presented.
Another thing that differentiates the group from others of its kind is its propensity for improvisation, something of a rarity for a musical realm associated with formal notation. Without wishing to take anything away from Carlos Cordeiro (bass clarinet), Andy Kozar (trumpet), and Lang (trombone), it's the vocalizing of baritone Jeffrey Gavett that is loadbang's main distinguishing feature. His contributions also stand out for the fact that he often doesn't sing conventional lyrics but instead deploys a range of unusual vocal techniques. Consistent with the album title, loadbang's acoustic sound is bodily-generated; its music is also typically intimate in tone and restrained in volume though not uninteresting, especially when the sounds the four generate dovetail so seamlessly. It's not uncommon for one person to complete the phrasing of another or for one instrument to mimic a fellow member's staccato stutter. Instruments sometimes play in unison; at other times their phrases collide in rapid motion and then splinter off in other directions. Though only four elements might be in play, their interactions are complex and unpredictable, suggestive of a group that's spent many hours rehearsing.
In Lunsqui's opening Guttural, instrument fragments replicate Gavett's syllabic utterances and guttural expressions. With the compositional focus on microtonality and severe reduction, Worthington's four-part Infinitive exudes a strong late-Stravinsky flavour, something along the lines of 1964's Elegy for J.F.K. In contrast to the sober tone of Worthington's piece, Mincek's Number May Be Defined is playful in spirit, even at times subtly jazz-tinged, whereas Franzson's Longitudinal Study #1 simulates the slow rise of wind and geological processes (for that matter, the sounds could just as easily pass for the amplified snoozing of a human being). Lang's Alvin Lucier-inspiredThere Might Be One More ends the recording on a surprising note with the four members setting their usual instruments aside for harmonicas. As left-turn a move as it might seem, it's in keeping with loadbang's character in using the bodily processes of inhalation and exhalation as the source for the piece's resonant sound world.
- Ron Schepper, textura, 1/16
Brassy, brazen, unexpected: for experimental-minded people, this is how new music should be. The quartet loadbang certainly fits that bill. Trombone, trumpet, baritone, and bass clarinet– definitely brassy and confidently brazen as well as unexpected in instrumentation. As Ian Power continually asks in his program notes to Lungpowered, loadbang’s 2015 release on New Focus Recordings, “Who came up with this idea?”
Founded in 2008, loadbang consists of baritone Jeffrey Gavett, trumpeter Andy Kozar, trombonist William Lang, and bass clarinetist Carlos Cordeiro. Many composers would shrink from writing for such a combo. Bottom-heavy, anti-blend, voice integrated into a chamber ensemble: it’s not the simplest challenge. Yet on Lungpowered, Alexandre Lunsqui, Scott Worthington, Alex Mincek, David Brynjar Franzson, Reiko Fueting, and William Lang rise to the occasion, with varying degrees of success. The first half of the recording is the better half. Where the second half consists of overly-lengthy pieces that mostly explore a single idea, the first three pieces are wildly inventive, structurally effective, and enticing in their strangeness.
Lungpowered opens not with a loaded bang, but a rhythmic stutter. Alexandre Lunsqui’s Guttural is a tour de force of loadbang’s idiosyncratic possibilities. It packs in percussive syllables, whistles, and shouts, muted brass shrieks, rustling air noises, thwacking sounds, and a thunderbolt of a multiphonic on bass clarinet in addition to the traditional tones of the instruments. The rhythmic vigor of the first movement, the second’s nervous hush continually disrupted by explosive outbursts, and the melting surges of the third that sound like a Surrealist version of an air raid siren are exuberant and delightful.
Infinitive, by the double bassist and composer Scott Worthington, is a perfect complement to Guttural. Softly-glowing chords illuminate thick silences while movement is reduced to a minimum as individual parts quietly bloom into the harmony. Coarse sounds return in Alex Mincek’s dynamic Number May Be Defined. Frantic unison squalls rush into the spaces between Gavett’s high chanting. Later, unpredictably-spaced single notes call to mind a hospital monitor that eventually goes haywire, breaking into subdued chattering. This comic babbling leads to an extraordinary ending featuring an oscillation between two otherworldly overtones.
Unfortunately, the rest of the recording lacks the brash excitement of the first half. David Brynjar Franzson’s Longitudinal Study No. 1 could be wind rustling past a window, occasionally working itself up to a gust that wrenches the frame. This goes on for ten minutes. William Lang, loadbang’s trombonist, contributes a similarly lengthy piece, the seven-minute There Might be One More. Its screechy sine-wave-like tones sound more like electronics than the harmonicas that each member of loadbang exchanges their instrument for. The slow coalescence of a shimmering chord at the end is beautiful, but it takes a long time to get there. Finally, Land of Silence by Reiko Fueting, explores bits of material, rotating them against a backdrop of sucking, hissing, plosive sounds. This is the most successful piece on the latter part of the recording, with its sonic ingenuity and closing baritone solo. That solo descends slowly in range and its traditional singing is spiked with a variety of mouth sounds. This is intriguing, progressive writing for the voice fulfills the apparent aim of loadbang: to be new, confident, and weird.
While it’s doubtful that loadbang will find themselves with many copycat ensembles, their fearless desire to go against the grain and search out different sounds and combinations is an example that should be followed. The danger, as illustrated by the second half of Lungpowered, is that a post-Lachenmann intellectual fixation on timbre becomes the goal. Novelty– an attempt to make an instrument do something it hasn’t done before– is never fulfilling on its own. Rather, such experimentation should be used as a tool, not a self-justifying end.
- Daniel Hautzinger, I Care if You Listen, 3.8.2016
The urban kingdom of Washington Heights is an unlikely Eden where the stately European echoes of Beaux-Arts architecture clash with the extroverted expressions of the Latin-American diaspora, and where the pulse and grit of Broadway lie just steps from the immemorial calm of Inwood Hill Park. It’s an impression that grows stronger as you move north into Hudson Heights and Inwood proper, where Manhattan Island narrows into a jumble of cozy counterforces. The elegant little contours of Isham Park and the mock-Tudor houses around Park Terrace West give way to a grittier landscape of body shops, tax-prep centers, a Twin Donut, the 207th Street subway yard, and the explosive traffic noise of the double-decked Broadway Bridge.
It’s often a loud neighborhood, but secret spaces can nonetheless be found. One is occupied by the area’s leading new-music group, Loadbang, which sports an instrumentation that is as eccentric as its environment: four gentlemen leaning in on bass clarinet (Carlos Cordeiro), trumpet (Andy Kozar), trombone (William Lang), and baritone voice (Jeffrey Gavett). (The group’s name is derived from a command used in electronic-music software.) Simply put, there’s no way that this quartet can naturally blend. The trumpet’s upper reaches provide some high-register relief, but these timbres are too unalike for an easy fit, and their heavy overlap in the medium-low range means that they can easily stumble into each other’s way. The only way to combine them is through stylish separation, which the savviest composers on the group’s new album, “Lungpowered” (New Focus Recordings), know how to exploit.
And these are grateful musicians indeed, as they have had to generate their entire repertory from nothing. “Guttural,” a piece by the prominent Brazilian composer—and Columbia University alumnus—Alexandre Lunsqui, fittingly gets pole position here. What could have been a pointless nattering of vocal effects—random syllables, whispers, clicks, whistles, growls, and shouts—is shaped into a convincing musical narrative though Gavett’s cultivated singing and Lunsqui’s acute awareness of the coloristic possibilities of the surrounding instruments. To the proudly anti-tonal toolbox of the current Columbia style, Lunsqui adds a refreshing elasticity; the ear-catching flow of rhythm culminates in a ritualistic finale, with proud octaves that nod to Beethoven and Lutosławski.
The other Columbian, the American composer Alex Mincek, shows off his technique in “Number May Be Defined,” a piece with a dark wit that staves off the forces of modernist entropy, that trendy current tendency to make a stretch of static sound art out of a gestural gimmick. (Works by David Brynjar Franzson and Reiko Fueting, to my taste, too easily succumbed.) “Infinitive,” a collection of four meditative movements by Scott Worthington, whose musical training is as a double-bass player, touchingly evokes the worlds of Feldman and late Stravinsky; William Lang, the group’s trombonist, offers the album’s envoi, “There Might Be One More,” in which this strangest of quartets uses its eight lungs to blow a sweet major triad through harmonicas—a musical smile that wraps up an album of quietly complex emotions. — Russell Platt, 2.14.2017