Jennifer Choi: violin
David Shively: percussion
Lauren Rubin: mezzo-soprano
Alex Waterman: cello
Often when contemporary music is characterized with words such as “thorny” or “gnarly,” one can more or less guess what to expect upon listening. It is rare to hear music that glances off these characterizations, taking the listener down a separate yet related path of a different sensibility that is intricate on its own terms. Composer Keeril Makan’s new CD Target takes that less traveled bearing, giving the ears a workout with timbral complexity drawn from a remarkably spare amount of material that sneaks up and delivers a whollop of powerful emotional content.
The disc’s opening track, 2, is a sinewy, angular duet for violin and percussion performed by Either/Or duo. The two instruments are treated as one throughout the piece; in the first half as a continuous stream of spiky energy, and quite the opposite in the second half, a noisy wall of sonic disturbance comprised of sustained tones and unstable harmonics.
Zones d’accord is a meditation in extended technique for cello, ranging from precariously balanced, gauzy sounds to ear-splitting scratches and tremolos. Originally composed as a musical accompaniment for a dance work, the title refers to the relationship between sound and movement.
The five-movement work Target, described in the liner notes as “a political commentary on U.S. military intervention abroad” was written for the California E.A.R. Unit with mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin, and incorporates to dramatic effect both original text by poet Jena Osman and snippets from U.S. military leaflets and documents. The interior three movements, —”Leaflet,” “Psyops: Know Your Target,” and “Leaflet II”—illustrate the dehumanizing nature of the texts with auras that are quirky, haunting, and aggressive in turn. The downward spiraling waves of the outer framing movements, “Twister I” and “Twister II,” reveal a seasick feeling of upset gliding just below the surface of the music.
Last but not least is the percussion work Resonance Alley, scored for three cymbals and a gong. According to the liner notes, the performer controls the speed at which musical events progress, and percussionist David Shively draws an enormous variety of slowly transforming textures and complex harmonic content from the metallic instruments over this nearly 30-minute performance. Although the recording is of excellent quality, as is the case throughout the disc, this is a work that would be especially satisfying to hear live.
The strength of the music on Target is its clarity and focus of intent—composer and performers drawing complexity from simplicity. All the fat has been cut away, leaving music that is lean, angry, and dramatic.