The first thing I noticed about Elsewhere, the new label curated by Yuko Zama, was the similarity between its logo and that of Erstwhile Records. It’s no surprise then to discover the connection between the two: Zama had previously worked for Erstwhile for 15 years as a designer, photographer and co-producer. This new label is now her own project, assisted by her husband, Erstwhile’s Jon Abbey in an executive producer role.
Zama’s statement of intent is to release modern classical music that takes cues from the past but is refracted through a very contemporary lens. She hopes that other types of music will also be included, “as long as it feels real and genuine, or something that seems as if I were hearing it in the wind from elsewhere”. And this sense of “elsewhere” extends from the label’s name to it’s output, music that is at once interior and exterior, familiar yet otherworldly.
The first two issues on the label covered live both improvisation and composition, and this blurring between such distinct practices is where Elsewhere seems to thrive. A set of three new releases this month are poised to explore these intersections in further detail, each covering different but not unconnected terrain.
The first of these is 120 Pieces of Sound by Jürg Frey. Comprised of two long pieces, the CD documents Frey’s unique approach to contemporary classical music, incorporating “lists” into his compositional process. These lists might include words, chords or other nodes to be connected and contextualized through the structure of the music. These connections invariably bring out melodies and patterns, extending outward and developing into larger systems. The first piece here, “60 Pieces of Sound”, sees Frey joined by a cast of musicians from the Boston-based ensemble Ordinary Affects. One of those members, Laura Cetilia, plays cello as counterpart to Frey’s clarinet in two-part melody that creates strange harmonics, slightly dissonant but retaining a calm clarity. These chords are stretched into elongated shapes, before dissolving into silence, like a breathless pause, before appearing again and repeating the process.
Luke Martin – electric guitar
Laura Cetilia – cello
J.P.A. Falzone – keyboard
Morgan Evans-Weiler – violin
Jürg Frey – clarinet
The second piece, “L’âme est sans retenue II” was written for field recordings and bass clarinet, and contains a similar structure to its preceding track on the album. Sounds and silence swing back and forth, but in slightly longer durations than “60 Pieces of Sound”. However, the silences are less absolute, each time the music dies down, a faint drone hovers in the periphery of the audio space, like a luminous thread attached to each louder part. The field recordings add a lot of texture here, complementing the clarinet with a tactile rumble that creates a deeper atmosphere than the first composition. Occasionally, a trebly ping appears, maybe a pitched recording or another found sound, which feels like a little shard of light escaping from the darker drones.
Apparently, these two pieces were not actually directly related, their similarities being more of a coincidence than design. But I think this illustrates Frey’s system of composition and its success in its score. Having these two works presented together affords the listener an insight into Frey’s approach to pitch, harmony and structure.
Elsewhere’s next release is Without, composed by Clara de Asis. Written for Erik Carlson (violin) and Greg Stuart (percussion), this 43-minute piece again finds sound competing with silence. The strings of the violin are stretched and smeared against the back drop pulverized percussion, separately occupying a stereo channel each. This creates a satisfyingly spatial experience, especially on headphones. At time the quieter passages in this composition contain low spectral hums and drones that haunt their space before the bowed strings make another appearance. Other times these points are filled with almost imperceptible sounds. Percussion is smudged, blurred and textural with cymbal sounds being scraped into ever-evolving soundscapes. There is an organic quality in the piece, one that shows a looseness in Asis’s original composition that allows the players a certain amount of leeway in their performance. This freedom to improvise over the score is a theme these new Elsewhere editions tends to embrace.
The third and final release from the label is by the Swiss composer and cellist Stefan Thut. About was written by Thut for a sextet for a concert series commissioned by Ryoko Akayama. Herself and Thut were joined by four other musicians, incorporating cello, electronics, guitar, piano, tingsha and metal percussion. This releases features the biggest cast of players in this set of three Elsewhere CDs, but sonically it is by far the most minimal.
Ryoko Akama – electronics
Stephen Chase – guitar
Eleanor Cully – piano
Patrick Farmer – metal percussion
lo wie – tingsha
Stefan Thut – cello
After a minute and a half of silence, the first sound in the hour long piece appears with the ringing of a bell. From this point, the other sounds emerge slowly, the chasms of silence between them being longer than the expressed sounds themselves. The performance also included a lot of physical movement by the performers, as they paced around the space, playing notes in different areas. In fact, the title About refers to “walking about”.
As with all these Elsewhere releases, there is a Zen-like focus on the details within the silence. Thus displays this notion in his idea that, as he says, “something vanishing creates a state of pure attentiveness”. This extends to the performers being aware of the decay of sound as it fades into yet another pool of quietness. There may be a lack of sound in these quiet parts, but they are full of expectation.