String Noise (Pauline Kim Harris and Conrad Harris, violins) returns for their second release on New Focus, a follow up to Eric Lyon's Giga Concerto which featured them as soloists with the International Contemporary Ensemble. Way highlights their dedicated commissioning work with some of the new music scene's most inventive composers. Featuring works by Alex Mincek, Catherine Lamb, and Lou Bunk, String Noise explores vanguard sonorities and textures, demonstrating their prowess for delivering challenging repertoire with expressivity and understanding.
String Noise has cultivated a broad array of experimental repertoire for two violins, courageously embracing a wide range of aesthetics to present challenging work since their formation in 2011. Their newest release, Way, features three of those works by Alex Mincek, Lou Bunk, and Catherine Lamb that delve into sonority, timbre, and larger forms to produce a recording that achieves moments of meditative catharsis through intense rigor.
Alex Mincek’s title track is inspired by a poem by Antonio Machado (“Caminante, no hay camino”) which describes the uniqueness of every path taken. Mincek structures this epic work around that concept, establishing restrictive parameters for each section and then slowly exploring various “ways” of working through these restrictions. Opening with steady, non-pitched bow sounds, Mincek begins to reveal a fragile pitch world beginning near the two minute mark. Repeated intervals over a drone migrate between timbral techniques, pushing and pulling against the overtone series created by the pedal point. As the timbral diversity fades away, Mincek focuses more on microtonal discrepancies between pitches, always within an insistent, repetitive context. The eight and half minute mark brings more angular figuration over the droning intervals, and soon thereafter, polyrhythm is introduced as a new parameter. The midpoint in the piece draws down to silence and when it re-enters, it is with a halo of ethereal, high register harmonics. Four minutes from the close of the piece, we hear a quixotic passage of disembodied, sotto voce figurations, with the two violins rhythmically misaligned. Mincek closes the expansive work with the two in rhythmic unison once again, in a somber chorale that exhales after the force of earlier sections in the piece.Read More
Lou Bunk’s Field is in five movements – both of the first two are longer than the final three combined. Field is a meditation on the function of silence and return of material in music, and the impact context has on both of those phenomena. In the opening movement, Bunk establishes a conversational dynamic between the two violins, circling consistently back to familiar gestures shaded with different dynamics and emphasis. Movement two is less active, focusing on rarefied textures of harmonics, airy bow sounds, and sustained intervals. Restless music pervades movement three, which opens with the creaks of overpressure with the bow and travels through glissandi and tremolandi. Movement four is pointed and angular, with strident pitches traded between the two violins connected by sinewy passagework. The final movement focuses on non-pitched and half-pitched bow sounds, creating a breathy texture from a wonderful array of timbres.
Catherine Lamb’s music places pitch and verticality under a microscope, mining the most subtle changes for expressive and structural meaning. (in) tone is a twelve minute meditation on these fine subtleties, presenting sonorities that shimmer with internal beatings, separated by contemplative pauses. Lamb’s work is, in a sense, very quiet music despite often being saturated with sound; it possesses the timeless quality of being invited inside the essence of pitch.
– Dan Lippel
Recorded at Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon, New York on October 4, 2017, June 16, 2019 and September 9, 2021
Produced by Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris
Recorded, Edited, Mixed, and Mastered by Ryan Streber
Graphic Design and Layout by Dustin Krcatovich/Golden Feelings
Cover Art: Detail of "Moon/Sun" (2004) by Alex Mincek
Liner Notes by Catherine Lamb, Lou Bunk and Alex Mincek
String Noise, New York’s most daring violin duo comprised of violinists Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris, has expanded the repertoire with over 50 new works since their debut at Ostrava New Music Days in 2011. Nearly a decade later, they continue to break down the boundaries of traditional expectations and inspire innovative compositions, displaying formidable virtuosity, integrating multi-media art, electronics, improvisation, video projections, opera and dance. Premieres by String Noise include works by George Lewis, Christian Wolff, Michael Byron, David Behrman, Alvin Lucier, John King, Phill Niblock, Caleb Burhans, Catherine Lamb, David Lang, Petr Kotik, Du Yun, Annie Gosfield, Bernhard Lang, John Zorn, Greg Saunier, Alex Mincek, Tyondai Braxton, Richard Carrick, to name some.
Alex Mincek is a composer, performer, and co-director of the New York-based Wet Ink Ensemble. His compositional thinking is concerned with creating contexts in which diverse sound worlds seamlessly coexist - from raw to highly refined timbres, from rhythmic vitality to abrupt stasis. Mincek is also concerned with how the cognition of physical shape, movement and color can be used as a model for organizing musical sound and structure. Mincek received his MA from the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with Nils Vigeland, and his DMA from Columbia University, where he studied with Tristan Murail and Fred Lerdahl.
Lou Bunk is a New England based musician with homes in Somerville, MA and Peterborough, NH. At Franklin Pierce University, Bunk teaches students new ways to listen. He has run (and is considering relaunching) a concert series called Opensound. He has a PhD in Music Composition and Theory from Brandeis University.
Catherine Lamb (b. 1982, Olympia, WA USA) is an active composer exploring the interaction of tone, summations of shapes and shadows, phenomenological expansions, the architecture of the liminal, and the long introduction form. After abandoning the conservatory in 2003 to study Hindustani music in Pune, India, Lamb received her BFA in 2006 under James Tenney and Michael Pisaro at CalArts in Los Angeles. Here, Lamb first developed her research into the interaction of tone, and continued to compose, teach, and collaborate with musicians (such as Laura Steenberge and Juila Holter on the microtonal women's choir Singing by Numbers). In 2012, she received her MFA in music/sound from the Milton Avery School of Fine Arts at Bard College in New York.
Lamb's first orchestral work, Portions Transparent/Opaque, was premiered by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at the 2014 Tectonics Festival in Glasgow, conducted by Ilan Volkov. She has written for ensembles such as Konzert Minimal, Dedalus, Ensemble neoN, the London Contemporary Orchestra, and the JACK Quartet, and collaborates regularly with Marc Sabot, Johnny Chang (Viola Torros), Bryan Eubanks, and Rebecca Lane.
Lamb's writings and recordings have been published by KunstMusik, Open Space Magazine, Q02, NEOS, New World Records, Another Timbre, Other Minds, Winds Measure, Hubro Records, Black Pollen Press, Sound American, and Sacred Realism. She is currently based in Berlin.
String Noise, the violin duo of Pauline Kim Harris and Conrad Harris, continues to take on visceral new work, following up three bracing, wildly disparate albums from 2021 with this sonic head punch. The bulk of the collection is occupied by the titular Alex Mincek piece, an epic assemblage of biting lines that prod, grind, and saw, transforming lean materials into maximalist power. Like Luigi Nono’s classic “Hay Que Caminar,” (“You Must Walk”), the title is taken from the same Antonio Machado poem (“Caminate, no hay camino”), and it reflects its meditation on how every path we traverse brings something new. Over the course of 28 transformative, richly grained, microtonal moments, slowly altered gestures reveal fresh perspectives, all of which makes the bittersweet tenderness during the final six moments even more powerful. Lou Bunk’s five-movement “Field” deftly plays with patterns of silence, exploring how the absence of sound transforms musical passages—extended techniques to generate glistening harmonics and grinding scratch tones—that reappear in changed iterations over time. The album closes with an early work from Catherine Lamb called “(in) tone,” a typically slow-moving, close-up study of dense harmony and beating patterns sluiced by chunks of silence. All three pieces revel in the wide textural range of the violin.
— Peter Margasak, 5.31.2022
For two-performer works, it is common to combine a string instrument with piano, but less so to combine one violin with another. Contemporary composers, when seeking sounds beyond the traditional, therefore may gravitate to this less-common sound mixture. There are three examples on a (+++) New Focus Recordings release featuring the violin duo known as String Noise. That may be an unfortunate name for drawing in listeners not already enamored of contemporary music – who may regard much of it as noise already. And indeed, that opinion may be reinforced by some of the material in the three works on this CD. All the composers here have elaborate compositional schemata that are designed to structure their works along specific lines that are intended to enhance a certain form and level of communication. None of the pieces, however, is immediately intelligible as having accomplished what its composer planned – except for audience members who have looked into the intent and compositional processes of the creators before hearing the music. Thus, Alex Mincek’s very extended Way, which runs nearly half an hour, moves from non-pitch to pitched sounds and then explores a very wide variety of pitch relationships, frequently using microtonal discrepancies that listeners unfamiliar with microtones may find difficult or even unpleasant to hear. The piece is full of signature sounds in contemporary composition, from frequent use of the violins’ highest register to deliberate imperfections in the rhythm – all of this designed in some way to reflect the various life paths that an individual can take, each different from all the others. The question here is whether listeners can pick up that theme from this almost wholly athematic piece without having to do advance study of the composer, the music, and the work’s inspiration (a poem by Anthony Machado). That is a lot to ask of an audience; only a limited group will likely find the effort needed for comprehension to be worthwhile. Lou Bunk’s Field is a five-movement work that generally sounds like an étude exploring modern composers’ interest in instrumental technique rather than audience communication. Like Mincek, Field pulls contemporary-standard sounds from the two violins, focusing on harmonics, glissandi, non-pitched material, and varying emphases that include contrasts between silence and overt stridency. The work is gestural and tends to paint its sound world in broad-brush fashion – contrasting in this way with Catherine Lamb’s lower-case-titled in (tone), which is all about minute differentiation within soundscapes and between sound and silence. This work is, in effect, a minimalist approach to minimalism, with a number of unusual-sounding sections whose meaning is less than obvious (and is clearly intended not to be obvious). The performers handle the complexities of all three pieces quite well, but it is asking a lot to expect listeners beyond a core committed-to-the-avant-garde audience to invest the time and effort needed to appreciate these works.
Pauline Kim Harris and Conrad Harris, i.e. String Noise, bring their inimitable violin prowess to these avant-garde compositions that are as versatile as they are creative.
Alex Mincek’s Way starts the listen very bare, with faint atmosphere, before the violins drone via strong attention to timbral techniques. Further on, polyrhythmic ideas enter, as higher registers help end the 28+ minutes.
In the middle, Field, by Lou Bunk, unfolds across 5 movements, and turns silence into a refined science that embraces the dynamic interaction between the pair, and concludes with half-pitched bow sounds and stirring textures.
The final track, Catherine Lamb’s (in) tone, dissects pitch meticulously, and in expressive, subtle ways thanks to its delicate and cinematic nature.
String Noise’s last release, Eric Lyon’s Giga Concerto, spotlighted the pair as soloists alongside the International Contemporary Ensemble. Here, they interpret these esteemed composers with a fascinating understanding of their craft, and it’s a vision that is entirely their own and very much appreciated by the listener.
— Tom Haugen, 8.26.2022