Ensemble Modelo62 with Juan Parra Cancino: Multiple Paths. Music by Bach, Parra and Tenney
Orpheus Institute Publications

On presentation grounds, Ensemble Modelo62 and Juan Parra Cancino's Multiple Paths. Music by Bach, Parra and Tenney sets an incredibly high bar. Issued by Orpheus Institute Publications in a large-format digipack, the release includes two discs, one a conventional CD containing stereo and binaural mixes of the three musical works, and the other a DVD featuring 5.1 surround mixes, plus a thirty-two-page booklet containing articles by Sandeep Bhagwati, Bob Gilmore, and Cancino. The release is auspicious in another sense, too, given that it's the first musical product released by the Ghent, Belgium-based Orpheus Institute, an organization that presents seminars, master classes, events, and workshops, and hosts the Orpheus Research Centre in Music (ORCiM), a home to around fifteen artists involved in advanced research (one naturally thinks of the Paris-based IRCAM as an analogue organization). The release itself effects a bridge between academic and artistic realms in featuring both written and audio materials; even better, the texts illuminate the musical pieces in providing insightful commentary and helpful background context.

In addition to producing Multiple Paths. Music by Bach, Parra and Tenney, ORCiM Fellow Cancino contributed three texts to the booklet and collaborated with Ensemble Modelo62 on the performances of the three musical works, his own Multiple Paths 8 (omaggio a Nono) plus J. S. Bach's Ricercare a 6 and James Tenney's Critical Band. In terms of the sound dimension, the material pairs Cancino's live electronics and sound diffusion with the largely acoustic sonorities (woodwinds, strings, guitar, trumpet, piano) of the Ensemble Modelo62.

In his composition as well as on the project as a whole, Cancino explores the ways by which the sound worlds of composers from different times—Bach, Tenney, and Luigi Nono—might feed back into new compositional practice, specifically one involving digital and electronic media. One can choose to listen to Cancino's thirteen-minute Multiple Paths 8 (omaggio a Nono) on purely listening grounds or augment one's understanding of it by attending to the performance notes (such as, for example, that “each instrument generates two distinct events in the whole piece”); of interest too are the diagram and photo that show the arrangement of the performers. Drawing inspiration from Nono, Cancino uses the computer to manipulate the sound production of the ensemble in real time, an arrangement that lends the material an exciting live feel. The piece is pitched at a quiet level (between ppppp and mp), which allows for the tiniest gesture to be witnessed and detail heard. While the piece presents itself as a multi-layered dronescape of varying pitches and instrument-related effects, it's not a static monolith but instead a piece of mutating yet circumspect character wherein acoustic and computer-generated sounds fluidly interact.

Cancino again draws for inspiration from the past for the second piece, a seven-minute rendering of J.S. Bach's Ricercare a 6, in this case Anton Webern, who also once orchestrated Bach's Ricercare. Following Webern, Cancino re-imagined Bach's piece by exploring the spatial trajectories the generated sound would have to travel for a melodic line to be completed. The idea is realized in the performance by having the eight notes within the first musical motif played by the eight performers, with each playing one of the eight notes (a hocketing effect, in other words), and by then decreasing the degree of melodic fragmentation in each successive melodic line. With live electronics also present in the form of “shadows” created by reverb applied to the instruments, one hears Bach's material anew, and the approach ends up seamlessly merging the old with the new.

The longest piece at eighteen minutes, Tenney's Critical Band (1988) is described by Bob Gilmore as follows: “A musical tone ... is sustained by a group of musicians for a couple of minutes before it begins to shimmer; it accrues ever more tones above and below it in harmonious proportion until, fifteen minutes later, a huge, resonant chord containing only the note A and the various partials that make up its complex sound is ringing in the air.” Gilmore also astutely notes that Tenney's piece “embodies a process in sound that is so simple, so primal, that it is strange to think that it was actually conceived and written down by one person at a particular historical moment.” As Tenney's long-form meditation advances, the blossoming pitches—fifteen in total—intone in a way that grows increasingly Ligeti-like and even a bit psychotropic. Clearly an immense amount of thought and effort went into the making of Multiple Paths. Music by Bach, Parra and Tenney, and the Orpheus Institute has every reason to be proud of this impressive audio-textural-visual production.

January 2015