Sounds Heard: Annie Gosfield—Almost Truths and Open Deceptions

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Almost Truths and Open Deceptions
by Annie Gosfield
(Tzadik)
Performers:
Tom Chiu: Violin
Annie Gosfield: Piano/Electronics/Sampling Keyboard
Roger Kleier: Electric Guitar
Ches Smith: Drums/Percussion
David Cossin: Drums/Percussion
Tony Falanga: Contrabass
Felix Fan: Cello
Sara Hammarström: Flute
Conrad Harris: Violin
George Kentros: Violin
Marten Landström: Piano
Alex Lipowski: Percussion
Max Mandel: Viola
Blair McMillen: Piano
Mats Olofsson: Cello
Andrew Russo: Piano

In the liner notes of her latest recording, Almost Truths and Open Deceptions, Annie Gosfield writes of her “parallel lives” performing music with her own band and writing fully notated compositions for other musicians and ensembles. With both of those worlds represented on this recording, it seems more that her two creative worlds are deeply interconnected, influencing one another and sharing common musical elements and sources of inspiration.

One of the striking things about Gosfield’s music is its unusual combination of visceral rawness and otherworldly distance. It often has a very direct sort of in-your-face quality while her obsession with broken machinery and obsolete technology crafts a somewhat ghostly scrim around the instrumental sounds. But because her connection to the technology is personal—much of it has been inspired by her family history—it is mysterious in the way that wandering around in a grandparent’s attic searching for old letters or hidden secrets can feel haunting and nostalgic at once.

The first track, Wild Pitch, was composed for the ensemble Real Quiet, featuring cellist Felix Fan (a major player, literally, throughout the CD), percussionist David Cossin, and pianist Andrew Russo. The piece travels through episodes of strong, lyrical cello lines that spill into frenetic ensemble interludes, which do indeed give the impression of a baseball game gone mad. The instruments flail away only to exhaust themselves into new contemplative states that give rise to more cycles of stillness and activity. An enticing assortment of small percussion instruments such as cymbals and small gongs mesh well with the sound world created by the piano and cello, and the score is thoughtfully arranged with all instruments nicely balanced in the mix.

Gosfield performs often on a sampling keyboard, mapped with a selection of sounds that seems to bear no relation to a piano keyboard. (I have often wondered how she keeps track of all the samples!) It is a nice surprise to hear her playing an actual piano on Phantom Shakedown, accompanied by an arsenal of electronic sounds created out of recordings made from failing technology, such as a broken radio. Her playing contains hints of numerous styles, from Romantic era to ragtime, and this combination of piano with electronics is quite beautiful and artfully coordinated, especially when the piano lets up after periods of intense activity, allowing the electronics to shine through to the foreground.

The showcase work of this disc, Almost Truths and Open Deceptions, is a hefty chamber concerto for cello with 2 violins, viola, contrabass, piano, and percussion featuring cellist Felix Fan again in the spotlight along with the other 3/4ths of the Flux Quartet. Gosfield pulls a nice big sound out of the ensemble during several raucous tutti sections; about 11 minutes into the work, the group flits briefly into a nightclub-ish sound, evoking a more intimate, smaller space. The music again builds, up to a different shift in texture to pizzicato strings and a pounding bass drum. After another boisterous period, the cello calms everything down to a wavering drone on D that gradually fades into silence.

The following track, Daughters of the Industrial Revolution, is a big change in instrumental scope and sonic palette. Written for Gosfield’s mixed quartet, it features rock guitar and drums with sampled machine and factory sounds set to a pulsing 4/4 groove. In Cranks and Cactus Needles Gosfield brings her passion for the sounds of broken and obsolete technology directly to her instrumental writing, as the Stockholm-based ensemble The Pearls Before Swine Experience recreates the warping, uneven sounds associated with old 78rpm records through their instrumentation of violin, flute, cello, and piano. This piece is structured differently than the others on this disc (to my ear), with a smoother through-line and more subtle gradations between the contrasting spare and busy textures that characterize much of Gosfield’s work.

Almost Truths and Open Deceptions is a selection of well-constructed, carefully recorded works that show how the parallel pathways of a band member and concert music composer can gel into a singular artistic vision.

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