Marvin Ayres: Harmogram Suite
Burning Shed

Harmogram Suite powerfully argues that Marvin Ayres' string playing is one of the loveliest things one might possibly hear, and it's especially ravishing when presented in multi-layered form. And multi-layered it definitely is, as this six-movement classical work involved the overdubbing of 140 layers, with every instrument and part played by Ayres except for a choir that appears during the fifth movement. The title isn't arbitrarily chosen, either: as one might expect, Harmogram Suite is a hybrid term that merges harmonics and harmony with hologram, and the orchestral work very much embodies the multi-dimensional character of the standard hologram, albeit in sonic form. Presented in a two-disc CD-and-DVD package, the work was recorded in a 5.1 surround-sound format that's consistent with the holographic concept. Rather than hearing the material as if it's coming towards the listener, he/she instead feels enveloped by it, especially when Ayres' playing is heard in its fullest orchestral form.

The “Underture” begins so quietly, one might think one's volume setting has been inadvertently turned down, but it's merely a strategic gesture on Ayres' part to have the music slowly blossom over the course of its eight-minute running time. Strings seemingly swim in and amongst one another, creating a languorous and dream-like flow in the process. In its gently keening expressions, “Movement Two” introduces a mournful quality that's reminiscent of the supplicating tone of Steven Isserlis's rendering of John Taveners' The Protecting Veil, and at certain moments Harmogram Suite manifests a plaintive character not unlike Gavin Bryars' The Sinking of the Titanic. Immediately distinguishing itself from what has come before, “Movement Four” opens in pizzicatti style before moving on to a solo cello episode, the move again mirroring the similar ensemble-to-solo instrument trajectory that Tavener deploys in The Protecting Veil. Ayres quickly moves on from there, however, and builds the strings into a semi-ecstatic mass of incredible force, a move pushed to an even further extreme in “Movement Five.” Following that climax, “Lament” closes the album with a gorgeous four-minute dénouement featuring a solo sampling of Ayres' vibrato-laden artistry.

In addition to solo works like Harmogram Suite, Ayres has a few other interesting irons in the fire. He's recently collaborated with Martyn Ware (of Heaven 17 renown) on a few projects, and the two are currently co-writing a joint album for release next year. No matter how such collaborative ventures turn out, we always have a rich collection of solo recordings by Ayres to turn to, including Cellosphere, Neptune, and Eccentric Deliquescence. And now, we have the beautiful Harmogram Suite to enjoy and appreciate, and that's certainly more than enough.

January 2012