Separation Songs (excerpt 1)
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The following review is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (February 2020) which can be read in its entirety here.
I thought I had all the material I needed for this month’s column when, just a few days before deadline, we received a shipment from the label Cold Blue and I found one of the discs so similar in approach to Cooper’s Stabat Mater that I decided to add it to my pile. Although new to me, it seems that Jim Fox originally founded this label in 1983, producing 10- and later 12-inch vinyl discs of primarily California-based contemporary and avant-garde music. When both of its distributors closed their doors in 1985 the label ceased operations for a time, but Fox later re-established it and began producing CDs in 2000. The catalogue now includes some five dozen titles by a host of composers including Fox himself, John Luther Adams, Charlemagne Palestine, Larry Polansky, Kyle Gann and Daniel Lenz to name but a few (i.e. the ones I’ve heard of). The disc that captured my attention is Matt Sargent – Separation Songs (CB0055 coldbluemusic.com), a set of 54 variations on selections from William Billings’ New England Psalm Singer. Composed between 2013 and 2018, Sargent has scored these four-voice hymn tunes, originally published in 1770, for two string quartets. On this recording the Eclipse Quartet accompanies and interacts with itself through overdubbing. Sargent says: “Throughout the piece, hymns tunes appear and reappear in ever-expanding loops of music passed between the quartets. Each time they return, the tunes filter through a ‘separation process’ whereby selected notes migrate from one quartet to the other. This process leaves breaks in the music that either remain silent or are filled in by stretching the durations of nearby notes, generating new rhythms and harmonies.” To my ears, the effect is like listening to a Renaissance consort of viols through a layer of gauze, or filtered by the mists of time, much like when ghostly strains of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden appear in George Crumb’s Black Angels. If I said you would need patience for Cooper’s protracted Stabat Mater, that is more than doubly the case for this 73-minute, one-track composition, but again, it rewards every moment of attention. I look forward to exploring the Cold Blue back catalogue, and to future releases.