Antoine Beuger – 24 petits préludes pour la guitareJuly 29, 2013
There has been a recent online discussion about criticism of the music of the Wandelweiser label, or rather the lack of it. Personally, having been engaged with, and having written about, the music of the label for what must be a decade or so now, I haven’t found much that disagrees with me. As is my general rule of thumb, I have chosen to not write about releases that don’t excite me as much as others but generally have found the label’s expansion over recent years into a wider area of composition to be inspiring. Crucially, I think that the music linked nowadays to Wandelweiser, both on the label and outside of it is now so varied, conceptually and aesthetically, that criticism of anything wider than the work of one composer at a time seems fruitless. It generally isn’t all quiet, doesn’t all relate to Cage, isn’t all pastel-shaded. There is much to discuss about any one release or another, positive and negative, but the lazily frequent idea that all Wandelweiser music inhabits one narrow area of composition doesn’t really work any more.
So, having said all of that, here’s a new release on the label that does indeed fit perfectly with the generic idea of what Wandelweiser music sounds like! Cristián Alvear Montecino’s beautiful renditions of Antoine Beuger’s 2009 guitar préludes are indeed quiet, full of silence and are extremely pretty. They are also exceptionally romantic in tone, finding a space somewhere between baroque airs and fancies, Satie and turn of the millennium Sugimoto. For all of the variety to be found in this area of music these days this album does indeed sound like the archetypal Wandelweiser release. It will doubtlessly then split commentators right down the middle. For me, as perhaps you might expect, its beautiful. So beautiful that, having heard it I have now commissioned Montecino to record a series of works for my own label, so bear that in mind when reading on.
There are twenty-four pieces here, the shortest two minutes in length, the longest clocking in at 3’45”, all played on guitar. However there is so much clean space in each of the tracks that, unless you are watching the CD player’s timer it becomes very difficult to tell where one piece ends and the next begins. So the whole album almost becomes a single work. Listening carefully though, on this occasion without the aid of the score, each of the pieces consists of little slow clusters of no more than four or five notes, sometimes repeated over the course of the individual prélude, but always very gradual, with the clean, precise notes chiming softly like occasional raindrops hitting a clear surface of water. The recording quality is exceptional, with credit due to Alfonso Pérez in Chile, Montecino’s homeland. The guitar playing is equally great- extremely clean, very very soft, with notes dying away perfectly like the ripples on that water. Playing music of this type on a guitar must be exceptionally difficult. As every note stands alone, listened to individually as a fragment of beauty in itself, any tiny mistake, or any one note played louder than the others would stand out a mile. The guitar often sounds like a piano, such is the perfection of how each note is plucked. Together the little clusters form tiny fragments of melody- little pieces broken off of wildly romantic works maybe, tiny hints at melancholy, glimpses at the history of music.
Little needs to be said about Antoine Beuger’s ability to write beautiful music. Here though his writing is matched perfectly through Montecino’s lovingly sympathetic playing. For me this is achingly beautiful music. For sure, we have heard similar work in the past from other composers, from guitarists such as Taku Sugimoto, maybe even Loren Connors- this isn’t in this day and age particularly innovative music- but there is a feeling of clarity and structure here that really seems to work well for me. Late in the evening tonight, as the sound of summer rain patters at the window, the guitar rising up as droplets of muted colour in the gloom, music doesn’t get much more beautiful.