CD Reviews

Tuesday 11th October

October 11, 2011

I have a particular, quite personal affiliation with today’s CD that I should probably explain a little before writing. It is my intention, probably in the new year, to undertake a long-term writing project that will be, in part, centred around Luigi Nono’s only string quartet; Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima. I have gradually obtained copies of every recording of the work there has been, and have spent quite a bit of time reading and researching the composition. Those that know my musical tastes well will recognise that this piece of music investigates on one of my favourite elements of music- the silences and negative spaces found between musical gestures. It was then, with great delight that I recently found out that the Seattle-based musician and composer Christopher DeLaurenti was to release an album named ‘Of silences in temporarily sung: Luigi Nono’s Fragmente-Stille an Diotima’  For this work Delaurenti has taken the LaSalle Quartet’s recording of the work, and has “inverted” the music- removing the passages in which the musicians make a deliberate sound with their instruments, and then significantly amplified what remains- so that we do not actually hear any of the notes Nono wrote, just the silences between his fragments.

Nono’s original score contains, as you might expect, traditional, if quite complex notation for the four musicians. Between musical gestures however, along the stave lines he has also written fragments of verse by the German poet Holderlin. Nono notes that “under no circumstances (should these poetic fragments) be taken as programmatic performance indications” and that the words should never be spoken aloud during the performance. Instead, he states that “the players should “sing” them inwardly, in their autonomy”. By taking the apparent silences in the Lasalle recording, making them the only remaining part of the piece, and then bringing up the noise floor of them so that every tiny, before unheard detail of these “silences” can be heard, DeLaurenti is maybe bringing a voice to those unspoken fragments of poetry. Nono’s quartet was written with the negative spaces between the sounds as much in mind as the sounds made by the musicians. DeLaurenti has recognised this, and has chosen to invert the way that the composition is usually approached by listeners. As Nono wanted the silences, the ‘stille’ to be as big a part of the work as the ‘fragment’ traditional listening approaches will centre mostly not he instrumental sound. The spaces in between are merely considered as pauses before the next note, rests perhaps, that dictate the pace of the work, but rarely would a listener listen as closely to the spaces between gestures, or rather, rarely would they listen to a sound while waiting for the next silence. The traditional approach is the other away around. Here, on DeLaurenti’s great CD, where there was instrumentation there is now digital silence. Every so often then we get a burst of activity- the grey hum of the recording space, little gasps of breath from the musicians or others in attendance, bits of unintentional string sounding either when a note takes a long time to decay or when a bow is rested against a string in preparation for the next pass. DeLaurenti has gone through the work with scalpel-like precision. Plenty remains in the spaces between the new digital silences. there is a world of activity in there that normally we would ignore, or dismiss as “silence”. Its impossible to not draw comparisons witht he composition of radu Malfatti, and in particular those works in which he inserts digital silences between his quiet, hushed sounds. The difference here of course is the intention- while Nono wanted the silences to be heard, the LaSalle quartet never meant for the whispers between gestures to be amplified and focussed upon.

The ideas behind this CD are really very simple, Cagean in tone, turning the way we listen inside out, showing us what we are missing. In his brief liner notes, DeLaurenti states that as we “listen, the silence is yours. Together I hope we find the singing, intemporal mirror of Nono’s desired “dreaming spaces and “tranquil breaths”. Tonight, after listening to this album very carefully some four or five times, I then went and took the original LaSalle quartet recording down from the shelves and played it through. Strangely, this piece of music that I thought I knew so well suddenly revealed a lot more, and felt so much more familiar. I don’t know who to recommend this CD to, other than those, like myself that find this sort of exploration of sound and silence thoroughly fascinating. for me at least its a wonderful release, both quite aesthetically beautiful in its own right, but also quite fascinating and revealing despite its very simple premise. Released on the rather fine, and on this occasion aptly named Reductive Music label.

Comment (1)

  • Dominic Lash

    October 12, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    This sounds great – I’m a fan of DeLaurenti’s stuff. And of course the Nono is astonishing… I have very fond memories of an hour or so spent at Bruno Guastalla’s workshop a year or so ago when we listened to the Arditti’s performance of the quartet, following along with the score, and then had a discussion about it.

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