A fascinating collection, Dark Matters features the music for carillon of Stephen Rush performed by Tiffany Ng. Questions of the technical sort arise: what microphone placements worked best; and if any ambient sound needed to be filtered out? It must have been a spectacular project to work on, purely in this regard. Musically, Rush makes brilliant use of his years spent studying the instrument, learning how to capitalize on the peculiarly diminished quality of the bells’ overtone profiles. A noticeable rise before and decline after each performance, makes for a kind of ambient “huff,” an enveloping foggy frame, like giant respiration.
Two carillons, one in Michigan and one in the Netherlands, play so differently it reminds one of how particular this type of instrument is, and how contingent the performance is on their sounds, much like organs. Whereas an organ has a synthetic animus, or breath, bells are defined by attack, such that every note’s momentum diminishes through its sustain. What Rush makes room for, and Ng perfects in execution, is a linearity that counters this. Decay follows attack, but gently repeated notes and Ng’s impressive control of dynamics give sustenance to line.
The smaller lighter instrument in the Netherlands is featured on Sonata for Carillon from 2007, as well as on the title track, from 2013, and on Six Treatments, which uses live electronics that animate the music in fascinating ways. The U of Michigan bells are darker and deeper, and are heard only on the disc’s bookends: Three Etudes, 1987, and September Fanfares, 2018, for carillon, brass quintet and percussion. The Sonata is a revelation, titanic chamber music by turns soulful and dancelike. Fanfares is the least effective track, possibly on account of difficult balance and timing issues, but brass quintets should find a way to program it anyway.