Joshua Rubin: There Never is No Light


ICE Clarinetist and Program Director Joshua Rubin releases his debut album with several works for clarinet and electronics, including premieres by Mario Davidovsky, Olly Wilson, and Mario Diaz de Leon.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 57:29
01The Soul Is the Arena
The Soul Is the Arena
02Synchronisms No. 12
Synchronisms No. 12
03Ma Dentro Dove (Suzanne Farrin)
Ma Dentro Dove (Suzanne Farrin)
04Salto Cuántico (Ignacio Baca-Lobera)
Salto Cuántico (Ignacio Baca-Lobera)
06Echoes (Olly Wilson)
Echoes (Olly Wilson)

On There Never is No Light, ICE clarinetist and program director Joshua Rubin presents several works for clarinet and electronics that explore the dynamic world of electro acoustic music over the last forty years. From Suzanne Farrin's timbally explorative Ma Dentro Dove, performed with the clarinetist activating vibrating strings by playing underneath an open piano lid, to the premiere recording of seminal composer Mario Davidovsky's Synchronisms #12, the last in his genre defining series of works for live instrument and tape, this recording lifts sound away from the constraints of acoustic or electronic perception and assesses it on its own terms. There Never is No Light also includes a guest spot by ICE pianist Cory Smythe, and a premiere by longtime ICE collaborator, Mario Diaz de Leon. Iconic composers Ignacio Baca de Lobera and Olly Wilson are also represented on this unique and penetrating recording of the avant garde clarinet repertoire.

Joshua Rubin
clarinet and bass clarinet
Cory Smythe
piano, track 3

Recording venues

1, 2, 4 and 6 Oktaven Audio by Ryan Streber (Oktaven Audio)
3 SUNY Purchase, by Silas Brown (Legacy Sound)
5 Astoria Soundsmythe Studios, by Joshua Rubin (This Room)

Session producers

2 Dan Lippel
5 Ross Karre
Mastering and mixing
Ryan Streber
Thomas Locke Hobbs (front and inside back covers)
Carl Gunhouse (inside front and back covers, disc)

Graphic Design
Thomas Marquet

To Allison Lyman for inspiring me to do all of this; to the composers featured and particularly to Olly Wilson and Mario Davidovsky; to my parents; to John Zorn; to Jeremiah Cymerman; to
New Focus Recordings; to ICE for commissioning The Soul is The Arena; to the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center for the support of Suzanne Farrin’s work.

Joshua Rubin

Joshua Rubin is a founding clarinetist and the co-Artistic Director of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), where he oversees the creative direction of more than sixty concerts per season in the United States and abroad. As a clarinetist, the New York Times has praised him as, "incapable of playing an inexpressive note."

Joshua has worked closely with many of the prominent composers of our time, including George Crumb, David Lang, John Adams, George Lewis, Philippe Hurel, Kaija Saariaho, John Zorn, Magnus Lindberg, Steve Lehman, Nathan Davis, Tyshawn Sorey, John Zorn, and Mario Davidovsky. His interest in electronic music throughout his career has led him work on making these technologies easier to use for both composers and performers. Joshua can be heard on recordings from the Nonesuch, Kairos, New Focus, Mode, Cedille, Naxos, Bridge, New Amsterdam, and Tzadiklabels. His album "There Never is No Light," available on ICE's Tundra label, highlights music that uses technology to capture the human engagement of the performer and the listener.

In the past season he has been featured as a soloist with the Seattle Symphony (under Ludovic Morlot) and at the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, in engagements with the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and has given solo performances of new music in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, São Paulo, Rome and Berlin.

He received degrees in Biology and Clarinet from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and his Master's degree from the Mannes College of Music. His clarinet studies were mentored by Lawrence McDonald, Mark Nuccio and Yehuda Gilad.



NY Times ArtsBlog

Joshua Rubin, a founding member of the International Contemporary Ensemble, offers a fascinating range of electro-acoustic pieces on his solo debut, plying his winsome clarinet and rumbustious bass clarinet against moody synthesizer chords, squelchy outbursts, cavernous echoes and, on one spontaneously created duet, Cory Smythe’s icy piano. The sounds and moods are many and varied, but Mr. Rubin’s eloquent advocacy is a constant.

Steve Smith


Musical America Blog

On There Never is No Light, International Contemporary Ensemble’s clarinetist Joshua Rubin presents a program of new music for clarinet, bass clarinet, and electronics by a diverse group of composers, both elder statesman and those of the thirty/forty-something generation. The Soul is the Arena, a piece for bass clarinet and electronics by Mario Diaz de Leon, crackles with incendiary energy, its synthetic photon bursts offset by growling multiphonics and Eric Dolphy style wails. Rubin also nets the premiere recording of Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms No. 12, for clarinet and synthesized sounds. As with all of Davidovsky’s Synchronisms, coordination is key. Rubin’s rhythms are spot-on and his responsive playing creates an animated colloquy with the electronics.

Suzanne Farrin’s Ma Dentro Dove, for clarinet and resonating body, is a reverberant meditation rife with trills, repeated notes, and angular melody. Salto Cuántico, a work by Ignacio Baca Lobera for prepared clarinet and electronics, juxtaposes bumptious riffs and altissimo cries with percussive interjections and cascading crescendos of electronic sound. Cory Smythe’s Toast includes piano as well as electronics and has an avant-jazz cast that alternates with Webernian post-tonal melodies. Upon hearing it, one is impressed with Rubin’s seamless maneuvering between styles and playing demeanors.

The album closes with Olly Wilson’s 1974 work Echoes. While very much a period piece, technologically speaking, it is nearly as successful as the Synchronisms at providing the illusion of a dialogue between the tape and performer. Rubin again provides an animated performance that furthers this impression. Excellently performed and thoughtfully curated, There Never is No Light is a fine recording.

- Christian Carey


American Record Guide

Contemporary clarinetist Joshua Rubin, a founding member of the New York-Chicago based International Contemporary Ensemble, here pursues a solo album with electronics assisted by versatile New York pianist Cory Smythe.

At the beginning of the liner notes, Rubin explains the title and purpose: "In 1966, during his early light experiments in Santa Monica, the artist James Turrell remarked that, no matter how much the room was darkened by curtains and tape, 'there is never no light.' This strikes me not as an environmental phenomenon, but a human one that brings perceptual challenges. Just as the eye will adjust to find light in a Turrell environment, the performer and audience are in a constant state of recognizing sound. These works place humans as the creators of their sonic experience, not mere listeners."

This is disappointing to hear because Rubin has the tools to make music an emotional experience as well. When not distorting his tone at the request of the composer, he plays with nice clarity and phrasing, and he deftly handles the program's technical obstacles, including some difficult multiphonics. Smythe, too, is solid in his brief appearances. The scores, though, all seem like a wasteland of noise and abstract nonsense.


Avant Music News

For over fifty years now composers and performers have used electronics to enhance, augment, and otherwise expand the range of sounds that can be produced by a conventional acoustic instrument. There Never Is No Light, the debut recording solo by clarinetist Joshua Rubin, works within this by now well-established tradition by situating the acoustic instrument fruitfully at many points along a continuum running from music to noise.

Rubin, who plays bass clarinet as well as clarinet, is a founder and artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble. His skills as a curator are well-displayed in the selection of the six works on this CD, which range over thirty years and two generations of electroacoustic composers.

The disc opens auspiciously with The Soul Is the Arena (2010) for amplified bass clarinet and electronics, a work that Rubin commissioned from composer Mario Diaz de Leon and premiered at Chicago’s Velvet Lounge in November, 2010. For this sometimes boisterous duet Rubin plays the bass clarinet with a harshly distorted sound as he chases electronic shadows in a vigorous game of pursuit. Synchronisms No. 12 (2006) is another duet for reed and electronics by another Mario—Mario Davidovsky. In contrast to the manic energy of The Soul Is the Arena, Synchronisms is a more restrained, reflective soliloquy for unaltered clarinet with discreet electronic interventions. Rubin’s playing is deeply engaging, using carefully modulated dynamics and drawing on the full compass of the instrument. The earliest composition in the collection, Olly Wilson’s Echoes (1974), is a duet for tape and clarinet; in addition to its own inherent interest as an effective pairing of acoustic and prerecorded sounds, it provides historical context for the newer electroacoustic works on the CD.

Suzanne Farrin’s Ma Dentro Dove (2010) for clarinet and resonating body is one piece within the larger cycle Corpo di Terra, a collection of compositions inspired by the sonnets of the fourteenth-century Italian poet Francesco Petrarca. The title, taken from a line in Canzoniere 9, translates as “but within, where”—an apt name for a work that takes the sound of the mic’d clarinet and feeds it into the resonant interior of a piano. The rhetoric of the piece is built on a virtuoso technical vocabulary turned to expressive ends; Rubin’s performance is as affecting as it is arresting. Mexican composer Ignacio Baca Lobera’s exhilarating Salto Cuantico (2011) also calls for a virtuoso performance for a prepared clarinet that confronts electronic sounds on their own turf, as it were.

Rubin is co-composer of 2012’s Toast, a kind of aleatory work in which a synthesizer unpredictably accompanies Rubin and co-composer/pianist Cory Smythe through the rises and defiles of sonically broken ground. — Daniel Barbiero, Avant Music News, 8.14.2017


The Clarinet

Though not a new release per se, Joshua Rubin’s fantastic 2014 record “There Never is No Light” remains an excellent listen for those interested in works for clarinet and electronics. Across the disc’s six compositions, Rubin displays robust, emotional and conscientious playing in a variety of situations, utilizing numerous contemporary techniques. Rubin is affiliated closely with the Chicago-based International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and has served as a founding member since its 2001 inception.

Blazing electronics and pointed bass clarinet playing jest the listener immediately in the work’s opening track, The Soul is the Arena (2010), a work written by Rubin’s ICE colleague Mario Diaz de Leon. I am reminded at times, particularly by the electronics, of earlier-era 8-bit and 16-bit video game soundtracks and sound e ects. Rubin’s bass clarinet playing is powerful and resolute. The disc’s second track is a highly valuable recording of Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms No. 12, a prominent composition for clarinet and fixed media from 2006. It is the most recent of the series of Synchronisms written for a variety of instruments. Rubin’s playing is truly excellent, with the outstanding timing necessary to align the clarinet part with the xed electronic media played in the composition, as well as an attempt to match timbre with the occasional B-flat clarinet sounds heard in the fixed electronic media part. Should students or professionals endeavor to play this magni cent composition, Rubin’s recording is essential as a reference.

Next is Suzanne Ferrin’s Ma Dentro Dove (2010), a work for solo B-flat clarinet and resonating body. Rubin’s energy is ceaseless throughout this work of approximately eight minutes. The resonating body’s effectiveness is crystal clear, as Rubin sounds like he is playing in a room of immense magnitude. A variety of dissonant multiphonics and utter tongue techniques are employed.

The longest track on the album is a 17-minute recording of Ignacio Baca-Lobera’s 2011 composition Salto Cuántico for prepared clarinet and electronics. The work is often angular and multi-tiered in timbre and demeanor. As demonstrated in the works by de Leon and Davidovsky, Rubin is well versed in interacting successfully with computer-generated sounds. Mastering and production on this track is especially effective, and at no point is a meaningful clarinet or electronic gesture ever lost to poor balance or other adjustments. This work’s length will likely stretch listeners that are unfamiliar with the genre, but that is no comment on Rubin’s playing or his production team.

Rubin is joined by pianist Cory Smythe for Toast, a 2012 collaborative composition by the two performers. This shorter work has lengthy gradient electronic sounds and the interplay of prepared piano and long tones from Rubin’s clarinet playing. The dissonances in the work are particularly frictional and biting at times, and make for a very interesting listen.

The album’s final work is Olly Wilson’s Echoes, a work for clarinet and tape from 1974. The piece alternates between stretches of solo clarinet playing and collaboration between tape and performer, and Rubin’s attention to timing is as excellently detailed as in the Davidovsky. The piece’s longitudinal approach to increasing intensity makes for very engaging listening with a number of sonic surprises, and is an excellent choice to close the album.

– Joel Auringer, The Clarinet, 3.2018

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