Qasim Naqvi: Preamble
NNA Tapes

That Qasim Naqvi's Preamble is designed to be broached as a composer's project is intimated by one detail in particular: Naqvi, known for the drumming he contributes to the acoustic trio Dawn of Midi, doesn't play on the release; instead, an acoustic octet, The Contemporary Music Ensemble of NYU, performs its seven connecting pieces with Naqvi the conductor. Issued on the Vermont-based NNA Tapes label, the thirty-two-minute release, featuring material he wrote as a commissioned score for Mariam Ghani and Erin Ellen Kelly's film installation based on China Miéville's novel The City & the City, casts his composing skills in a positive light.

Interestingly, while the material might sound totally through-composed, Naqvi purposefully allowed some degree of indeterminacy to enter into the process by using graphic notation and traditional notation; as he himself says, “The performers can make certain choices for themselves, based on the watchful impulses of the conductor.” Dynamics, duration, and rhythm represent a sampling of the variables that can be manipulated over the course of a performance, resulting in a work whose realizations might never sound the same way twice.

Recorded live at the Church of the Advent of Hope in Manhattan on March 9th, 2015, Preamble explores a number of moods, from the sombre (“Preamble”) and agitated (“Meg Erase Meta”) to the quietly ruminative (“Imagined Garages Pt. 2”) and even dramatically Impressionistic (the rather Debussy-esque “Aero”). Stylistically, the material locates itself within the early- to mid-twentieth century when composers like Schoenberg and Webern treated dissonance and consonance as equally valid sites of exploration. The chamber-sized presentation also gives the music a Webern-like character, especially when woodwinds (flute, clarinet), strings (violin, viola, cello, bass), piano, and vibraphone are the instrument sounds involved.

Yet while Naqvi's approach accommodates dissonance, it's never so for its own sake, and neither is his approach dogmatic. Intuition and musicality are the guiding forces, resulting in material that's modern in spirit but also never hard on the ears, and the listener is consistently engaged by the broad range of instrument effects presented (pitchshifting, trills, etc.). Enhancing the presentation of the material is the pristine clarity of the set; despite being a live recording, no extraneous sounds appear, enabling the listener to wholly focus on the ensemble's performance and enter into the composer's soundworld.

February 2016