Laurene Crane / asamisimasa: Sound of Horse

Oxford-born composer Laurence Crane (1961- ) practices a highly personalized brand of chamber minimalism, at least insofar as his music's represented on the fifty-five-minute Sound of Horse. Each of its five settings is brought to life with a fastidious attention to detail by the Norwegian group asamisimasa (clarinetist Kristine Tjøgersen, cellist Tanja Orning, guitarist Anders Førisdal, pianist/organist Ellen Ugelvik, percussionist Håkon Mørch Stene, soprano Ditte Marie Bræin). Crane's music is austere, yet the ensemble infuses these performances with a warmth that enhances their appeal and makes them feel all the more accessible.

As serious a composer as Crane is, an irreverent side is present, too. One could take the album title literally, but it actually, according to him, holds a separate, double meaning: it refers, firstly, to Horse Sound, a stretch of water by the Coigach Peninsula in west Scotland where he was staying when he began working on the piece, and, secondly, to one-time Spiders From Mars guitarist Mick Ronson, whose playing, in Crane's mind, sometimes resembled a horse's neigh (on Aladdin Sane's “Time,” for example).

In the opening setting, John White in Berlin (2003), piano chords intone placidly against an almost subliminal drone of percussive reverberation; even more skeletal in its presentation, 1998's Old Life Was Rubbish largely oscillates between two chords for a fleeting two minutes, while the serene Riis (1996) drapes unison clarinet-and-cello utterances against a mutating backdrop of electric organ chords.

It's the two multi-part works that are the release's primary selling-points, however. Crane's cheeky side comes to the fore during the three movements of Events; scored for voice, three clarinets, and vibraphone, the 1997 composition sees the vocalist reading in a dry monotone lists of birthdays, foreign exchange rates, and UK weather details extracted from the February 7th, 1997 edition of The Guardian. Rendered with consummate delicacy by three asamisimasa members, the piece isn't without arresting musical moments, as demonstrated during the second part when the vocalist's stepwise melody is duplicated by the vibraphone and then shadowed by the clarinets.

Crane's material sometimes calls Morton Feldman and Satie to mind, but other composers emerge as reference points also. To cite one other, the twenty-minute, seven-part title piece at certain moments calls to mind Gavin Bryars at his most minimal, and Crane's arrangement for clarinets, guitars, cello, and vibes is reminiscent of the kind Bryars has featured in his own work (it would be easy to misidentify the interplay between the woodwind and vibes in “Luminous and Serene” as the handiwork of Bryars, for example). Obviously there are key differences, too, with Crane's pieces generally more subdued than those by Bryars, even if the 2009 work's fourth part, “Loud and Rough,” does bring Crane's slightly more aggressive side to the fore.

December 2016