On their bold debut full length recording, the excellent Boston based bass clarinet and marimba duo Transient Canvas (Amy Advocat, bass clarinet & Matt Sharrock, marimba) present repertoire that explores the wide range of roles and textures these two instruments can assume with each other.
Duo repertoire is a fascinating exploration of the tension between monologue and dialogue, homogeneity and duality, and contrast versus hybridity. On their bold debut full length recording, the bass clarinet and marimba duo Transient Canvas (Amy Advocat, bass clarinet & Matt Sharrock, marimba) present repertoire that explores the wide range of roles and textures these two instruments can assume with each other. Notably, the repertoire on this recording largely steers clear of the combination’s most predictable texture — the marimba providing steady pulse oriented accompaniment to a soloistic bass clarinet. Instead, these works explore merged timbres, powerfully declamatory unison statements, and narrative structures to draw the listener into the colorful world of five substantial new works, all performed with a maturity beyond the years of these wonderful young performers. Daniel T. Lewis’ sift, the title track, opens with a haunting timbre. Each instrument intones in its low register, as beautifully revealed high overtones of the bass clarinet create a halo effect floating above. The work evolves patiently, as more pitches from the overtone series of the low fundamentals are explicitly articulated, and the bass clarinet begins to glide between the well tempered pitches of the marimba with gooey microtones. The bass clarinet takes a lead role in Tina Tallon’s dirty water, framing blistering outbursts, plaintive wailing, and bravura rips with percussive punctuations. Midway through the piece the dense activity gives way to haunting trills in both instruments before the insistent staccato punctuations signal a return to the denser, virtuosic material from the opening in a compressed coda. The raw energy of the attention grabbing opening of Curtis Hughes’ Vestibule III leads quickly into more introspective material. The composer describes the work as a “series of short, related duos that seem to exist in a state of perpetual transition between contrasting textural and stylistic worlds.” The dichotomy between driving, rhythmic textures and thoughtful, reflective moments predominates throughout. In John Murphree’s Purge, the duo finds plenty of opportunites to show off their individual chops and impeccable ensemble coordination, as both instruments dance around in kinetic passagework. Adam Roberts’ Nostalgia Variations is a perfect marriage of form and content, as it is an exploration of an affect of longing for the past in a form that had its heyday in prior centuries. Roberts’ creativity in finding fresh contexts for his poignant, emotive theme makes this twenty minute work remarkable. As with all great variations sets, the shape of the work as a whole is the sum of its component variations, and in this case Roberts is able to capture the wide range of expressive territory in the present that is associated with contemplating the loss of one’s past. He writes in the program note that the work is “about finding a way to engage with such emotions in, as a Buddhist would say, the middle path.” Not surpring then that Nostalgia Variations ends unresolved, with a disembodied statement of the opening theme that seems less to look back to the past as to look forward to the future, albeit with a question mark.
- D. Lippel
Produced by: Curtis Hughes (track 3), Daniel T. Lewis (track 1), John Murphree (track 4), Adam Roberts (track 5), Nancy Zeltsman (track 2), Amy Advocat, and Matt Sharrock
Engineer: Joel Gordon
Recording Location and dates: Distler Hallat Tufts University in Medford, MA, August 7, 2014 (tracks 3 & 4); Futura Studios in Roslindale, MA, January 5 & 6, 2016 (tracks 1, 2, & 5)
Mastering: Joel Gordon
Program notes: Curtis Hughes, Daniel T. Lewis, John Murphree, Adam Roberts, Nancy Zeltsman
Design: Marc Wolf (marcjwolf.com)
Cover Photography: Jeffrey Means
Boston-based contemporary duo Transient Canvas is on a mission to revolutionize the modern concert experience. Since 2011, their innovative performances have been praised as “superb” by the Boston Globe and “disarming” by Cleveland Classical, with the San Francisco Chronicle lauding “the versatile imagination they both display and inspire in others.” Bass clarinetist Amy Advocat and marimbist Matt Sharrock relish the creative potential of working with living composers, having amassed a varied repertoire of over 80 commissioned works in addition to working with hundreds of student composers from all over the world. They maintain an active touring schedule with recent performances at the Charlotte New Music Festival, Red Note Festival, Music on the Edge, Ethos New Music Society, People Inside Electronics, Music at the Forefront, and New Music Gathering, among others. They have two albums, Sift and Wired, both released on New Focus Recordings. Transient Canvas proudly endorses Henri Selmer Paris, Conn-Selmer, and Marimba One.http://www.transientcanvas.com/
Transient Canvas, a bass clarinet and marimba duo made up of performers Amy Advocat and Matt Sharrock, recently released their debut album sift on New Focus Recordings. As you might expect, the album consists entirely of new works, all of which were commissioned by the duo. I had the pleasure of listening through this album and find it one of the more refreshing things I’ve heard in recent years. The following is a review of this album, taking each piece into account with some final words on my overall feelings about the album.
The CD opens with its title track, sift by Daniel Lewis, and I feel it is a very effective opening piece. It is centered around the “struggle to accomplish something, and a final and inevitable collapse,” as outlined in the program note (the title being a reference to a line from a Kay Ryan poem). The piece uses limited pitch material which draws the listener into the gestural characteristics of the two voices (bass clarinet and marimba, obviously). The instruments also focus initially on the low range of their respective registers, and over time introduce new pitches contained in the overtones series as the piece evolves. Lewis also refers to a “drawing up of energy” in his programs notes. This is created through a gradual buildup and introduction of ideas, as well as the density of material, expanding registers and rate of rhythmic activity. However, this entire process is extremely gradual, t the point that I barely noticed it was happening until I found myself in the middle of a barrage of activity at 7:00 into the piece. This is followed by an initial decline, and an immediate ramp-up to the climactic explosive arival at 8:45, the highest point in the piece in terms of energy and density of melodic/gestural material. My initial listening hears this as nearing achievement of the goal, that being a symbiotic relationship between the two voices, rhythmically, harmonically and gesturally. This is nearly achieved when the two voices are playing in near unison in the final minute of the piece. However, this doesn’t feel as much like an arrival as it does a final attempt at the goal and realization that the goal will never truly be accomplished; the final gestural moments being the sift left from nearly 10 minutes of straining toward an unachiev able objective.
Tinal Tallon’s dirty water follows sift as the second track, and again, I feel it was a good choice of track order on the part of Transient Canvas. Tallon describes her piece as being inspired by the Standell’s 1966 song of the same name, and the “quirky, grungy, playful ubiquity of [the song] and the city that [she] love[s].” Again, I think the composer’s own words on the piece are an incredibly accurate depiction of what one can expect from listening to it. Dirty water involves a great deal of contrapuntal interplay between the instruments which begin as brief gestural moments, interjections, interruptions or residue from one another. Around 2:20 the individual moments and gestural ideas become longer and more substantial and really bring the listener into the individual character of each instrument’s timbre and gestural/motivic content. The second half of the piece (starting around 3:30) seems to begin the process over, with both instruments presenting short snippets of material, some in total rhythmic unison, all of which leads to a series of tremolo figures in both instruments, again punctuated and interrupted by sharp marcato and slap tongue attacks. It is as if the piece almost starts the entire process over, but changed as a result of everything that came before. The high point of Tallon’s piece, for me, was the final 40 seconds of the piece, wherein both instruments are again playing longer contrapuntal phrases with more sustained playful energy. This plays out to the final moment of the piece, which is honestly my only issue. I felt the end of the first section wraps up very nicely and restarts at 3:30, but the very end of the piece seems to just cut off mid-phrase. Perhaps this is a nod to the Standells song referenced in the program note, which also fades very abruptly at the end of the recording in the middle of a phrase during the repetition of the chorus.
Vestibule III by Curtis Hughes follows dirty water as the third track. I think this is an appropriate title for the piece as it evokes the imagery of beginning, just as one might enter a building through the vestibule (with numerous options of where to go next), this piece, to me, sounds like a series of beginnings and departures. To quote the Linklater film Waking Life, it felt as if I was in a state of constant departure while always arriving. Hughes creates moments that are stylistically and aesthetically different from one another through texture, energy, motivic character, use of repetition or lack thereof, etc. The piece is always moving in some direction, though I never quite knew where it was going or how material would develop, and all the while I was fine with that. It was nice to be taken on a journey that had no clear end in sight where I could really just enjoy each stop along the way. The pulsing rhythmic introduction is a very effective set-up for the piece, and that kind of rhytmic energy comes back throughout the piece, interspersed with what Hughes refers to as “lyrical tenderness,” which I feel is appropriate. The opening material returns at the end, which is nice in terms of creating a clearly wrapped up musical form, but I wonder if it’s necessary. This is not a comment on Hughes’ pieces alone, but more something that I’ve always wondered about musical form in the 21st century. Is it necessary to return to previous material to create a unified formal plan or convincing musical discourse? In the case of Vestibule III I think the preparation of the return was handled very well and I was surprised by the return of opening material, I just wonder if continuing the perpetual shifting of textures and moments would have been equally satisfying.
Relatively light and playful, John Murphree’s Purge is centered primarily around a small collection of motives and a single whole-tone gesture that appears numerous times throughout the piece. The entire work is presented in four primary sections with the whole-tone flourish (most often as a shared unison figure) serves to start and/or close each section. The piece is overall enjoyable, easily digestible and gets a lot of mileage out of relatively limited materials. Murphree rewrites and reuses similar rhythmic cells in each section to create contrapuntal interplay between the instruments, or to establish an almost ostinato groove pattern in the either the marimba or bass clarinet, with the other instrument acting as the soloist. I found the title and program note interesting and perplexing at the same time. I was almost expecting a very clear presentation of materials with the overall narrative of the piece being to either destroy those materials into something unrecognizable or very far removed (purging the original material from any surface-level recognition), or I thought it might be a piece that was centered around both long-term variation of ideas with aperiodic outbursts (purging of emotional anger). One could make the argument that the latter of these did happen, in that there was variation of introductory material throughout each section, and there were some outbursts, particularly the repeated whole-tone figure, though it goes through very little change throughout the piece. Perhaps the fact that the whole-tone motive remains unchanged helped to solidify it as a recognizable outburst motive, and any deviation from the figure could cause it to be less noticeable as the purging of anger through an aggressive outburst. In all, I think any piece that causes me to think about it this much is deserving of multiple listenings and discussion, and I’m sure I’ll be revisiting it much more in the future.
Nostalgia Variations by Adam Roberts is the capstone work of the album, clocking in at just a little over 20 minutes. The opening material serves as the theme (the Nostalgia theme, as suggested by the program notes) and throughout the 20 minute journey the composer explores (seemingly) every possible variation of the introductory material. On my first listen through I tried to trace the development of the Nostalgia theme throughout the piece, and I honestly would not recommend that for a first-time listen. I say that only because I feel like there is so much subtlety and nuance in Roberts’ piece that is beautifully presented by Transient Canvas, and my laser focus on tracing the development of a melody really took me out of the mental headspace that makes their playing and Roberts piece so enjoyable. While the syntactical trajectory of development is probably interesting to analyze, what makes this piece so enjoyable is how Roberts transitions from one section to the next - for example moving seemlessly from long phrases of intricate counterpoint dominated by gestural activity to very straight-forward repetition of a simple rhythmic device to some kind of distorted and irregular groove (what Roberst sometimes refers to as “strange loops” in another work) to the slow meditative/reflective ending. In all, there is more to discuss in Nostalgia Visions than can be covered in a single review, so in short I would just like to say that this piece has something for anyone and everyone to take away. Roberts crafted a wonderfully elaborate piece based on a simple idea and Transient Canvas did a masterful job executing that vision, and it is a perfect choice as the closing piece for the album.
Again, I am very impressed by this album, not only with the compositions on an individual basis, but also with the overall playing and dedication by Transient Canvas and the care that they took in crafting this album. Too often I have sat down to listen to albums of some of my favorite performers and I get 5-7 tracks of the same aesthetic and/or genre, which can become old even if it's something I love. Transient Canvas provides the listener with a wide array of styles and aesthetics and with 5 pieces wherein the composers provide their own unique take on how to handle the relationship of the instruments’ timbres and abilities. I strongly urge you to check out this album, especially if you are a clarinetist or percussionist looking for new rep., or if you are a composer looking for some new and captivating 21st century music. — Jon Fielder, Klang New Music, 9.13.2017
Some music just lays right from the first hearing. Further listens fill in the details and yet the initial impression sticks with you. I feel this way about the duo Transient Canvas and their album Sift (New Focus FCR 190). It is a full length recital showcasing the bass clarinet work of Amy Advocat and the marimba of Matt Sharrock. The two instruments together make for a deep and rich sonance realized especially well by the fine artistry of the two.
Five new music composers contribute one composition each. You may or may not know of these craftsperson-artists. It does not matter because each has something to say and brings out the color and dramatic potentialities of the instrumentation.
Each work embodies a literal intent. The respective composer explains what that is in the liners. I paraphrase here. The title piece"Sift" (2014) by Daniel T. Lewis puts in musical terms what remains of a resolve when long subjected to struggle, and the exhaustion and collapse that can follow. Tina Tallon's "Dirty Water" (2014/16) is her tribute to Boston and an allusion to but not quotation from the Standells' old pop-rock hit.
Chris Hughes and his "Vestibule III" (2013) comes to grips with an ever shifting transition between contrasting stylistic worlds, something all who follow new music modernism in its current incarnation can sense as part of where we are now.
John Murphree's "Purge" (2013) creates in analogic musical terms a casting out of what once was or even still is important.
The longest and perhaps most ambitious of the works concludes the program, namely Adam Roberts' "Nostalgic Variations" (2015). It contains within the main theme and its variants a middle path between "saccharine expression" and on the opposite pole "irony and rejection of emotion."
The experience of the music itself understandably transcends or deepens the impact of any given composer's intent. This is contemporary music that neither rejects a modernist stance nor does it replace it with something wholly other. It is a series of cogent and fascinating vehicles that allow the duo and their very singular instrumentation to flourish and establish an immediate present-day identity. It is in the process a very absorbing and even exhilarating program all new music adepts will gravitate towards appreciatively, I would think. -- Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Classical Modern Music Review, 9.16.17
From the beginning, chamber music and the chamber ensemble have been mainstays of the Western art music tradition. And like the larger tradition, they have undergone periods of evolution, stability, and rapid if not disruptive change—not only in the structure and content of the repertoire, but in the very definition of what constitutes a chamber ensemble as well. Two new releases on the New Focus label bring new perspectives to this venerable and profoundly fluid format.
Transient Canvas is the duo of bass clarinetist Amy Advocat and marimbist Matt Sharrock, whose Sift is their first full-length recording. Seen close up, the duo’s makeup is unusual—the marimba doesn’t really appear in Western classical music until Darius Milhaud’s 1947 Concerto for Marimba and Vibraphone, and bass clarinet is traditionally not a solo instrument. But from a larger perspective, Transient Canvas is an oblique variation on the piano-wind duo, the marimba being just another tuned percussion instrument. The pairing of these two low-compass, decidedly un-Stentorian instruments is inspired, as are the five compositions, all written within the last four years, that are presented here.
The slightly melancholy side of the duo’s aggregate sound is effectively brought out in the title track, a 2014 work by composer Daniel T. Lewis. The piece has a gently rueful feeling to it, with phrases trailing off into silence like a reflective speaker’s unfinished sentences. Adam Roberts’ impeccably constructed Nostalgia Variations (2015) occupies a similar affective space, with a plaintive melody built around a four-note kernel. Although subjected to elongation, compression, bisection and other creative deformations, the basic profile of the melody almost always is discernible. The other three compositions, by Tina Tallon, Curtis Hughes and John Murphree, also play to the two instruments’ ability to evoke the emotional ingathering of the downward glance.
The more conventional chamber ensemble of piano, violin and cello is the protagonist of Passages, a recording by the Brooklyn-based trio Longleash (pianist Renata Rohlfing, violinist Pala Garcia and cellist John Popham). Passages is a cosmopolitan collection that contains five works by five younger contemporary composers from Europe, Japan and North America, four of whom are under 40. Although the group’s instrumentation is traditional its sounds aren’t; the three, and particularly the strings, draw on the expanded repertoire of timbres and gestures that composer Nils Vigeland, in his liner note, suggests constitute a new “common practice.” In fact, while the pieces vary in their sources of inspiration and in their method of composition, all make intelligent--and above all artistic—use of a broad palette of techniques and sounds. For example, Rome-born Clare Iannotta’s evocatively-titled Il colore dell’ombra (2010) uses microtones, diverse bow articulations and percussive and damping piano gestures to bring out multiple shadings of individual and composite sound colors. American Christopher Trapani’s Passing Through, Staying Put, a two part work of 2011 whose themes of motion and rest were suggested by Geoff Dyer’s paired novellas Geoff in Venice/Death in Varanasi, contrasts the strings’ glissandi and harmonics with more conventional piano chords. Mexican composer Juan di Dios Magdaleno’s Strange Attractors (2014) weaves its sound events into a discontinuous texture mimicking the behavior of a chaotic system, while Yukiko Watanabe’s ver_flies_sen (2012) constructs its texture out of staggered cells made up of harmonics and abrupt piano interventions. And as its title implies, Pisa native Francesco Filidei’s 2010 Corde Vuote is scored for violin and cello playing exclusively with open strings; the piece creates a sense movement through the superimposition of voices and through the controlled use of dynamics and bow placement. — Daniel Barbiero, 10.12.2017, Percorsi Musicali
Daniel T. Lewis’s Sift takes its title from a line in a Kay Ryan poem in which she describes an effort as: “...the sift left of resolve strained too long.” The piece intends to represent an exhaustion, a drawing-up of energy, a struggle to accomplish something, and a final and inevitable conclusion. Using a note collection that is minimal, Sift takes the listener on a kaleidoscopic journey of whispers, dialogues both serene and argumentative, energetic dance rhythms and an eventual collapse of energy evoked by increasingly separated sigh gestures that conclude the piece. Advocat employs a wide array of colors, microtones and portamenti in the realization of this mesmerizing, mysterious work. Lewis draws upon the blending capabilities and articulation palette of the bass clarinet and marimba extremely well in this 10-minute work.
On dirty water, composer Tina Tallon writes:
“Although I wasn’t born there, in many ways, I consider Boston to be my home. Boston was where I decided to become a composer, and I owe my development to my many colleagues in this city. While dirty water does not use any material from the Standells hit, it is inspired by the city I love.”
The bass clarinet writing alternates between rhythmically synchronized material with marimba and “down and dirty” moaning effectively realized by Advocat through pitch bends, slap tongues, grunts and wails. Most admirable about Advocat’s playing here is her template of slap tongue styles and articulation in general. The ensemble between Advocat and Sharrock is very impressive, as is Advocat’s handling of the extremely wide leaps, technical demands and constant character changes in this work.
Curtis Hughes’s Vestibule III is one of a series of short, related duos that seem to exist in a state of perpetual transition between contrasting textural and stylistic worlds. The driving energy and “downtown” sound à la David Lang mesh perfectly with an almost sentimental lyricism that is beautifully rendered by Advocat. Rhythmic precision is excellent by both Advocat and Sharrock, but what is most impressive in this recording is Advocat’s extreme control and beauty in the instrument’s high register. Energy and excitement builds until the work ends as it began, with a “Bang on a Can”-style, hard-driving ostinato between a brake drum-sounding marimba and repetitive low Cs beautifully belted by Advocat.
John Murphree’s Purge is a very short, rhythmically energetic work that best displays both Advocat’s and Sharrock’s virtuosity and razor-sharp precision on this disc. However, the work is not without flowing phrases. These are performed excellently by Advocat, as are the more raucous interjections that further display her stylistic versatility and range of color.
Composer Adam Roberts employs the traditional theme and variation form in his work Nostalgia Variations. The theme, performed in impeccable unison by Advocat and Sharrock, breaks into a collection of iterations containing mercurial flashes, ostinati, wild frenzies, bluesy stylings and absolute virtuosity stunningly realized by both Advocat and Sharrock.
Advocat and Sharrock are lauded for their captivating musicianship, versatility of style, and overall technical command of their instruments on this recording.
– Kenneth A. Long