The Mivos Quartet's newest release features three recent works for string quartet by US-based composers Taylor Brook, Andrew Greenwald, and Kate Soper. Literary elements inspired each work on this album, as the composers drew from figures such as Jorge Luis Borges, the American minimalist artist Carl Andre, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
El jardin de senderos que se bifurcanTaylor Brook
|07||A thing is a hole in a thing it is not|
A thing is a hole in a thing it is not
The album’s title track, Taylor Brook’s El jardin de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Diverging Paths), takes its name from a short story by the Argentinian magic realist Jorge Luis Borges. Brook explores Borges’s idea of alternative histories, creating six movements based on musical histories that could have been. He imagines worlds where musical evolution made slightly different turns, forever altering fundamental musical concepts of tuning and playing styles.
Andrew Greenwald’s A thing is a hole in a thing it is not borrows the title from a dictum by the American minimalist artist Carl Andre. Greenwald, a member of the composer/performer collective Ensemble Pamplemousse, writes music of extreme complexity and timbral variety. In “A thing is a hole in a thing it is not”, Greenwald creates a kaleidoscope of choked bow sounds, fragile string harmonics, and startling silences.
In the album’s final work, composer/soprano Kate Soper joins Mivos for Nadja, a three song cycle which sets texts by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Ovid, and André Breton. Soper, a co-director, performer, and composer with New York’s Wet Ink Ensemble, links these texts through their common focus: feminine love and desire. Similar to such previous works as “Cipher” for soprano and violin or “Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say” for soprano and flute, Soper masterfully blurs the traditional lines between vocalists and instrumentalists, sharing the dramatic role with her string-playing colleagues.
All tracks recorded and produced by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio
The Mivos Quartet, “one of America’s most daring and ferocious new-music ensembles” (The Chicago Reader), is devoted to performing the works of contemporary composers, presenting new music to diverse audiences. Since the quartet's beginnings in 2008 they have performed works by emerging and established international composers who represent varied aesthetics of contemporary composition. Mivos is invested in commissioning and premiering new music for string quartet, particularly in a context of close collaboration with composers over extended time-periods. Recent collaborations include works with Mark Barden (Wien Modern Commission, Dan Blake (Jerome Commission), Richard Carrick (Fromm Commission), Patrick Higgins (ZS), Sam Pluta (Lucerne Festival Commission), Kate Soper, Saul Williams, Scott Wollschleger and Eric Wubbels (CMA commission). Mivos is committed to working with guest artists, exploring multi-media projects involving live video and electronics, creating original compositions and arrangements for the quartet, and performing improvised music. The quartet has appeared on concert series including Wien Modern (Austria), Transart (Italy), Music at the Phillips (Washington, DC), Lucerne Festival (Switzerland), HellHOT! New Music Festival (Hong Kong), Festival International Chihuahua (México), Edgefest (Ann Arbor, MI), Asphalt Festival (Germany), and Aldeburgh Music (UK).
Music eats literature and literature dines on music, and Mivos Quartet’s Garden of Diverging Paths is an album of beautiful cannibalism. As a theme, the intersection of words and sounds is a path crowded with footprints, but what elevates this effort is genuinely exceptional programming and the full…digestion…of the scores on the part of the quartet.
Currently a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, Taylor Brook turns to the 1941 short story “El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan” by Jorge Luis Borges as the philosophical framework for his piece of the same title. At its heart is the notion of multiple realities, and here Brook endeavors to take traditions like free improvisation, Gagaku, and central African musics down alternate evolutions.
Scordatura tuning pulls these six songs into less obvious (but still) tonal territory, but this listener, at least, has the experience of hearing not so much new trajectories of known idioms than something more akin to the sci-fi trope of a small number of survivors recreating civilization – in this case burrowing inside their memories to reclaim the songs of a dead planet. The billowing, microtonally-constructed chords and ticklish cycling of movement three, “Strumming” pokes out as a highlight both for the poetic delivery by Mivos, and the elegant orchestration by Brook.
A thing is a hole in a thing it is not is the title of Andrew Greenwald’s gripping entry on the album – and a bit of inverting logic that will turn one’s brain to cottage cheese if contemplated for too long. A piece of exacting complexity for both the left and right hands, order and balance is what leaps into the ears, and the quartet delivers an admirable transmission of the composer’s labyrinth of bow percussion and harmonic mini-interludes.
The most exquisite element of Wet Ink co-director Kate Soper’s Nadja is her fluid entwining of the voice and strings. A heady meditation on feminine love and lust, Soper as soprano often merges timbres with the instrumentalists here, pitch-bending and pitch-leaping with agility and finesse. The texts of Tennyson, Ovid, and Breton shiver with desire as bleary textures buoy sometimes tone-row-resembling vocal melodies…or all five coalesce to embolden the text…or all five erupt in erotic hunger. It is a stand-out work, but such a thing does not exist on a tracklist this deep. - Doyle Armbrust, Q2 Music, 6.13.2016
Taylor Brook's music also features on this album by Mivos, an adventurous group whom I discovered because of their gorgeous collaboration with vocalist Zola Jesus. Here they play three works based on the written word, starting with Brook's title piece, which is based on a short story by Borges and uses imaginary theories and histories to create music that sounds alien and ancient at once. Andrew Greenwald, who co-directs Ensemble Pamplemousse, contributes A Thing Is A Hole In A Thing It Is Not, a single movement of scratchy, scrapey and high-pitched sounds that somehow holds together. The title is from a remark by conceptual artist Carl Andre and keeps you guessing as much as the music does. Greenwald has also produced arrangements of this work for two cellos and even solo euphonium - check it out. The final work, Nadja, finds the Mivos joining forces with the composer, Kate Soper, who sings vocal parts drawn from Tennyson, Ovid, and Breton. Even in the quiet moments, this is fiercely engaging listening, and Soper is in fine form. This whole collections more than lives up to the "adventurous" tag I hung on the Mivos above. Now it's your turn to be adventurous and listen. - Jeremy Shatan, 11.1.2016
Even more limited in audience and even less inclined to compromise in any way to reach a wider group, a new Mivos Quartet release on the New Focus Recordings label shows a great deal about the gap between listeners in general and contemporary composers who write primarily for themselves and those who think just as they do. If The Sea Ranch Songs is overdone on the utopian scale, the three works offered here are overthought on a different scale altogether. They are uniformly well-made within the strictures that the composers set for themselves, but they are so hyper-intellectual and so lacking in any of the emotional connection of which music is capable that listeners are likely to be bored, puzzled or fed up in short order by what they hear – in more or less equal amounts. This state of affairs comes through especially clearly in Nadja (2013-2015) by composer/soprano Kate Soper. The three movements offer poems by authors whose works could scarcely be more different: Alfred, Lord Tennyson; Ovid; and André Breton. In her composition and her performance, Soper manages to make all the poetry sound essentially identical – a remarkable accomplishment, although scarcely one that most listeners will find worthy of celebration. The other pieces here are similar in both cerebral heft and emotional vapidity. Taylor Brook’s 2013 work, whose title translates as “The Garden of Diverging Paths” and is taken from another literary source, a short story by the remarkable Jorge Luis Borges, imagines six ways in which musical history might have diverged from the path it took in our world. That leads Brook to create six movements intended to show where music as we know it might have gone, but did not. This is an intriguing thought experiment, and the movements’ titles lend hope that it might be an audible one as well: “Altercation,” “Pedals,” “Strumming,” “Following,” “Lament” and “Coils.” But in practice, very little of the erudite underpinning of the music comes through: performers – including the very adept members of the Mivos Quartet – will certainly see the ways in which these miniature tone poems explore alternative realities, but it is asking too much of any but a very esoteric audience indeed to expect listeners to be able to follow and understand just where this music is supposed to be going. The third work on the CD, Andrew Greenwald’s A thing is a hole in a thing it is not (2010), is one of those portentously titled pieces that are supposed to mean a great deal – which perhaps it will to people who are highly familiar with Carl Andre, the American minimalist artist from whom the title is taken. Or perhaps not even the cognoscenti will see how the extreme sonic environment of this work, whose 11 minutes seem nearly interminable, relates to Andre’s production. The point is not that any of these pieces is misguided – indeed, they are all taken just where the composers want to take them, and the Mivos Quartet delves into the material with enthusiasm and in grand style, a major reason the CD gets a (+++) rating. But the extreme dryness of the material, the complete lack of understanding or caring that not everyone who might hear this music functions at the rarefied level of those who created it, makes this CD into a self-referential exercise whose communicative potential is confined to those “in the know,” who will congratulate themselves that they “get” so much more than lesser mortals do. Unfortunately, preaching to the choir produces few converts to one’s beliefs – although it is by no means clear that these composers are reaching out to anyone who is not already convinced of the importance of what they are producing. - Infodad.com , 9.29.16