Words of Paradise by Robin Hayward

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Robin Hayward | Words of Paradise
Edition Telemark (LP/DL)

The power of a strong concept – as opposed to the mere thematic novelty that many press releases fruitlessly attempt to propagate – is a thing often sadly overlooked, even within the world of so-say ‘art’ music. With ’Words of Paradise’, however, Robin Hayward succeeds in not only harnessing a quite wonderful concept, but doing so with a rigorous attention to detail that results in a mesmerising, and at times formidable composition. 

Inspired by a long-dead Dutch linguist’s proposition that the flemish dialect of Brabantic was the original language of heaven, Hayward constructs nuanced harmonic material from the interplay of 13 ‘single-syllable reversible words’ performed upon various horns, and offset against long-held electronic tones devised via Hayward’s own bespoke ’tuning vine’. It is a rich foundation for any work, and one that Hayward grabs by the metaphorical horns, pun intended. 

Words of Paradise immediately brings to mind a much older, seminal work for similar instrumentation – Yoshi Wada’s ‘Earth Horns’. Like Wada’s work, Hayward presents a sublimely organic sound-world, lacking much of the clinical precision found in many contemporary recordings. Though occasionally muffled, and replete with numerous textural quirks, the composer’s horns sing, imbued with a sense of life that the recording process all too often strips away. 

Musically, the composer works with a form of minimalism, though perhaps more indebted to the proto-minimalism of Terry Riley and La Monte Young, than the later, arguably less strict machinations of Steve Reich and Phillip Glass. As with Young’s infamous ‘To be held for a very long Time’ Fluxus score, the focus here seems to be on the macro-experience of being embedded in the composition, rather than upon any specific moment, instrument or sonic device. There is, however, a clear sense of structure that underpins an otherwise elegant formlessness. A slow meandering start, all disjointed parp and subtle microtonal variance, gives way to more established held tones that slowly drift from the pieces harmonic centre.  The role of Hayward’s cyclical score – itself a free-standing work of art – is fundamental to this seemingly emergent shift, with the instruments increasingly dancing around the fundamental tone, and the whole affair gradually becoming more in-harmonic, its instruments shedding grace and insecurity in favour of near-rhythmic growls and modulations. 

Words of Paradise is not always an easy listen, even for those well versed with this form of composition.  Hayward plays too readily with its mood, managing to present radically different states from the same basic material – a choice no doubt drawn from the initial concept that fuels his work. At times meditative, at times almost angry, yet always rendered with the same tongue, the listener is placed in a position of not inconsiderable discomfort during its second half. With these same few instruments, and the same fundamental construct, Words of Paradise descends from a place of delicate contemplation to one of intense scrutiny, its horns suddenly imbued with a tension that was at first so skillfully hidden. That this change is offered with such impressive nuance, such ingrained subtly, speaks volumes in regard to Hayward’s ability as a composer, and points to a sublime capacity for considering every detail of his work. 

The composer takes an extremely strong concept and uses it to produce a magnificent work of contemporary composition, to which I struggle to find any form of complaint. Though it seems to wear its influences on its sleeve, Hayward’s work never feels pastiche, or too well-trodden. Rather, by invoking a strict exploration of harmonic detail, Words of Paradise feels powerfully exploratory for its capacity to push its audience beyond many of the entrenched modes of listening still present in the vast majority of self-proclaiming experimental music. 

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