Niblock / Lamb by Ensemble Neon

Ensemble Neon | Niblock / Lamb
Hubro (CD/DL)

Ensemble Neon is one of Norway’s leading contemporary music ensembles, active since 2008 and synonymous for extreme quality and fantastic interpretation. In this album, released on Hubro, they perform two pieces expressly commissioned for them to Phill Niblock and Catherine Lamb. The two American composers come up with two almost specular pieces that face each other, similar but different, with opposing qualities but strong links and connections. The two compositions, almost confronting each other make dualism key feature of this record.

It’s not the first time I’m covering work featuring Phill Niblock as I was always fascinated by this author being one of the key figures of the new wave of American minimalism. To two tea Roses is somewhat dedicated to Walter Branchi, the Italian music philosopher and friend with Niblock

It sounds like a vertigo of tones, a complex textural work of metallic coarseness that might sound aggressive and overwhelming at first but in reality is soothing, the initial abrasion smoothes our ears and soul getting us in another dimension. The buzzes of stringed dissonances reveal a link to the culture of Indian ragas, where the tones are also quite dirty and rough and make our body vibrates in sympathy with the sound waves. The composition sounds like it must be extremely demanding for the ensemble that is called to present an incredible effort of providing the same soundscape for a twenty minutes long moment.

On the other end Parallaxis forma is much less maximalistic than To two Tea Roses and affords more variations, the bowing of the string instruments reminds more of Indian ragas and appears at first easier to confront with, also due to the vocal element that comes in play, with overtone singing and a reverberation that helps pulling out the resonating qualities of the voices.

The human presence here yields a more gestural attitude that compensates for Niblock’s stasis. The slowness generates a subtle movement that results in a more dynamic outcome. Also the counterpoint of resonances becomes an interesting subject to study, due to the natural reverberation of the place.

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