Wednesday 23rd SeptemberSeptember 23, 2009
Just to get the caveats out of the way first, from time to time I post adverts for CDs on Jez riley French’s Â Engraved Glass label at the I Hate Music forum. All I ever do is copy and paste Jez’s text into an IHM post. I do this because he isn’t allowed to post there. I have no other connection to the label. Although I have seen her name mentioned here and there on London concert bills I had never actually heard the music of Catherine Kontz before I played this new Engraved Glass release, a 3″ disc named Canvas.
Kontz is a composer and pianist based in London. This little disc contains two pieces, one a work for solo piano and the other for electric guitar. Both are apparently written as part of a series of “large-format canvas scores” that dictate various parameters to musicians but allow enough space for them to improvise within the performance. The first of the two tracks, named T-Tree is the piano piece as is played here by Kontz herself. This is a really lovely little miniature. It starts with slow, spaced apart notes played, Feldmanesque in their placement, but with some degree of preparation applied to some of the strings. As the piece progresses through its eleven and a half minutes so it gets steadily busier and more varied, but still I am reminded of an early Feldman piece, perhaps one of the Intersections series, but with the added breadth and variety of the prepared strings. As I initially listened I cursed myself for yet again hearing the touch of John Tilbury in this piece of music, a somewhat shallow way of considering every piano work I listened to, or at least so I thought until I went and looked at Kontz’s website and it seems that she, like Sebastian Lexer studied for at least some of the time under Tilbury at Goldsmiths College. So maybe I shouldn’t be so fast to criticise my own judgement (or maybe I should!) T-Tree’s last 90 or so seconds sees the slowly picked out piano notes joined by a single low sinetone, probably the result of an e-Bow placed against one of the strings. This little shift in texture at the end of the piece really adds to the character of the work, a subtle touch that tops off this lovely little work beautifully.
The second track here is named Cahiers TrouvÃ©s, is written for electric guitar and effects and is performed here by Henri Vaxby. In many ways this piece is similar in its style and form to the piano work, but at the same time it is sonically very different. When the effects pedals are not put into action the music is very obviously guitary, in that it sounds like a musician strumming at plucking at a guitar, enjoying the way a guitar sounds rather than trying to hide it. Again slowly picked notes and little glimpses of something that suggests at but never succeeds at melody are used, with every so often the music switching via effects into a more abstracted, rougher finish. A minute or so in, after wistfully free clusters of notes are left to float in space something is slammed to the floor and a raw wrench of a sound comes from the guitar. As the nine minute piece moves on things progress into compressed, electronic sounds and grungey feedback, but never for long and always held in place by the work’s structure. I am less of a fan of this piece than I am of T-Tree, mainly because I am a sucker for a slowly played piano and less a fan of strummed electric guitar, and the rougher edge of the second work is less appealing than the first’s gentle pacing, but the two pieces do work together here very well.
The scores for these two pieces can be viewed at large size over at the Engraved Glass website. they are in fact quite extraordinary, not what I was expecting to say the least, almost childlike in their style, but also very detailed and probably very difficult to use to create music. How the Â score to T-Tree, which includes little stick drawings of families and someone riding a bike amongst other things results in such gently beautiful music I don’t know.
I think (I’m not certain) that this is the first Engraved Glass release that does not feature Jez riley French’s music in some way. there are more releases in this vein planned though, as part of the Point Engraved series. These are simple little packages, a little 3″ disc attached to the back of a colour postcard slipped into a clear pocket. This one sports a really nice photo, taken by French, that somehow says nothing about the music yet still fits it perfectly.