Catherine Lamb – three bodies (moving)August 10, 2012
Its hard not to compare the music I am writing about tonight to the music I wrote about yesterday, given the proximity of the two reviews to one another within this blog’s timeline, and also, to some degree given the shape and form of the music. Catherine Lamb’s three bodies (moving), a forty-five minute work released on Another Timbre has a certain sense of Feldmanesque repetition and simplicity to it. In some ways, given that the Feldman piece I reviewed yesterday was set for less conventional instrumentation, the more string focussed trio on this CD by Lamb may even be closer in feel to classic Feldman, but such lines of enquiry make for lazy reviewing, so I will desist.
Catherine Lamb is an American composer in her early thirties who has studied under the likes of James Tenney and Michael Pisaro at CalArts, and has extensive knowledge of Indian classical music. At first it isn’t easy to spot any Eastern references in three bodies (moving), but after a while, as the piece progresses and exists around you, its slight lean towards linearity and droning forms leads us in that direction. The piece is performed here by Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick, (cello) Erik km Clark (violin) and Phil O’Connor (bass clarinet). It is very difficult to pick out the exact paths that each instrument takes at any one time in this very beautiful piece of music, but certainly vaguely repetitive, slow, perhaps mournful tones slowly revolve while other tones either match them or sit alongside them. There is a very gentle, simple minimal feel to the work, but like Feldman there is nothing as clinical as Reich here or as romantic as Nyman, just a feeling of complexity formed through very simple, wonderfully beautiful building blocks that ever so slowly slip and slide across one another in manners that feel regimented, but when you really try and pin down the formulas you just can’t. In an interview to accompany the release at the Another Timbre website Lamb talks of a “beautiful blandness” and that fits perfectly for me here, a feeling of simple, unadorned elements combining to produce subtle, immensely pleasing new forms again.
When presented with music of this kind I inevitably resort to visual analogies. Here I am reminded for some reason of Cage’s Where R=Ryoanji drawings around pebbles, or perhaps some kind of Brancusi still life where the subjects refused to stay still. The music feels like the simple shapes and forms of those visual works, but constantly in motion. So the beauty of the music still comes from the shapes formed by overlapping musical objects, or the spaces formed between them, but as the piece goes about its gradual way so those objects keep moving, shifting position against one another. There are hundreds of little sections spaced apart by brief silences, with each little cluster informing the one that follows, but rarely staying the same. Hence the Feldman comparison.
Whatever the easy comparison or extended visual metaphors this is a gorgeous little piece of music. It feels little, despite lasting a good three quarters of an hour and despite there being so much variation in the way the simple forms combine. The music feels light and airy but far from ambient, with each soft clarinet tone or swoop of deadened strings feeling alive and consequential, perhaps even sensual. Its this last feeling of richness and harmonic depth that separates Lamb from most of the music of the Wandelweiser composers, though this work generated a similar sense of alert calm in me that music of that collective also achieves. I know little of Lamb’s other work, but I suspect we will hear much more of it over forthcoming years. There is a sense of something very special in this composition that makes me wonder what more there is to come, but for now, for me at least, this is a little gem out of nowhere.