Cory Allen: The Great Order
Quiet Design

Perfectly designed for the vinyl album format, Cory Allen's The Great Order splits thirty-four minutes of music (identified as two movements) across its twelve-inch sides. A major part of the project's appeal is that Allen eschews the kind of electronic resources conventionally used for drone-related work and instead uses an acoustic quintet to bring the material into being. Specifically, the music was performed live in the studio by Allen on piano, cellist Henna Chou, double bassist Brent Fariss, Mike Vernusky on bowed classical guitar, and Nick Hennies on bowed and struck vibraphone.

To describe it in simple terms, Fariss, Vernusky, and Chou produce extended tones of contrasting pitches that overlap and provide a firm foundation that Allen and Hennies punctuate with staggered accents. With only five musicians contributing to the overall mass, the listener has no trouble separating one instrument from another and is able to monitor the music's trajectory more easily as a result, an effect also enhanced by the meditative music's slow and steady unfolding; the timbral contrasts between the instruments also, of course, helps create that separation. The natural and flowing manner by which the sounds organize themselves is very much by design, as Allen set out to create a micro-system that would reflect the structure of the the universe and the innumerable micro-systems that constitute its order. In that spirit, Allen devised a number of guidelines for the musicians to follow, such as instructing them to play notes from a pre-determined pitch pool for one of four predetermined lengths of time and to hew to a shared volume level. True to the project's organic character, no computer, overdubs, click track, or metronome were involved; instead, the musicians wove their individual sounds into a collective whole that breathes with a natural, one might even say timeless rhythm.

Though Allen might have directed the music's creation using a rigorously conceived system, at no time does the music itself feel bloodless or sterile, as if disinterested musicians are simply reading a score. On the contrary, they sound as engaged in their playing as one would expect, given the artistic choices Allen required them to make during the music's creation and the fact that their playing was so much a product of listening and responding to the choices made by others. In short, the creative undertaking was probably as engrossing an experience for the performers as the experience of reception is for the listener. Issued on Quiet Design (managed by Allen and Vernusky), The Great Order is presented in a gorgeous bone-white vinyl colour, its misty and ghost-like appearance an attractive complement to its transporting musical content.

March 2013