Sounds Heard: David Keberle–Caught in Time
Tara Helen O’Connor
Pittsburgh Flute Club
Drawing on his work from the decade spanning 1997 to 2007, composer David Keberle’s new album, Caught in Time, showcases six chamber works that blend microtonality, extended performance techniques, and rich textural writing into spacious soundscapes for 21st-century ears.
Keberle revels in many details of performance technique that lend his work a haunting, organic, and particular quality, yet he is above all a composer who paints with broad brushstrokes. The works featured on this release all have an unhurried, larger-than-life, at times epic quality; this is music driven by powerful seismic forces lurking under the surface, music about events that resound with a global sense of scope and impact.
The disc opens with Keberle’s Soundings II, a piece recorded by commissioning flutist Tara O’Connor and the Pittsburgh Flute Club flute choir. The piece is the second in a series of pedagogical works in which Keberle sought to provide a way for student and professional performers of varying levels the opportunity to meet in a masterclass setting and explore the still relatively uncharted world of extended techniques. (In his notes, the composer explains that, “like an iceberg, classical flute study contains many unexplored sonic possibilities that lie under the surface.”) This is a fascinating idea for an educational piece, but in the hands of a composer less artistically assured it could have easily come off as a pedantic catalog of performance techniques. Far from a technical exercise, Soundings II is a haunting composition that weaves all kinds of breath sounds, key clicks, and microtonal glissandi into a large music space that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Keberle’s Four To Go for Pierrot ensemble is cast in four miniature movements that bustle along with a sense of motion that is a refreshing contrast to the opening work’s unhurried wide spaces. Even working with movements of two or three minutes, Keberle seems to paint postcards that function as windows onto spaces more vast than can be contained within the boundaries of each miniature’s brief duration.
David Keberle is also a clarinetist specializing in new music, and he performs on two of the other chamber works featured here, including the 15-minute work for clarinet and piano titled Incroci (literally “crossover” or intersection, and the closest word approximating the term “crossover” in Italian). Keberle’s performance reveals his secure technique and imaginative sense of tone color—many of his microtonal fingerings alter the instrument’s tone even more than they alter pitch, and in Keberle’s musical universe it’s clear that pitch and tone color are interrelated at an almost organic level. One of Keberle’s great strengths as a composer is his understanding of how several seemingly disparate elements may be combined to create impressions of singular expressive power.
The disc concludes with settings of three Yeats poems performed ably by tenor Rob Frankenberry with Eric Moe on piano. It’s interesting to hear Keberle’s compositional muse channeled into a slightly more linear/narrative mold, and both composer and poet seem well-served by the encounter. A very active piano accompaniment provides most of the textural interest, with a surprisingly art song-like vocal part.
This disc represents my first encounter with David Keberle’s music and rarely have I been so taken by a composer’s use of time as aural and expressive space. Each of these works cultivates its own musical space: an atmosphere that belongs to that work alone.