Claire M Singer: Solas

Solas (“Light” in Gaelic) is, in many ways, the quintessential Touch release, as much for the photo imagery by Touch founder Jon Wozencroft as its musical content. On this debut album by Claire M Singer, elements of both drone minimalism and classical minimalism (of the Part and Gorecki kind, though Glass might also be said to figure) co-habit, and while electronics are involved they're often integrated so subtly they go unnoticed. The album itself is a wide-ranging affair featuring works for organ, cello, and electronics that span fourteen years; Solas thus serves as an excellent portrait of Singer, who in her position as Music Director of London's Union Chapel oversees concerts and educational workshops revolving around the chapel's 140-year-old organ; in fact, three of the album's seven pieces were recorded at Union Chapel on the instrument. Calling the London-based Singer an electro-acoustic composer isn't unwarranted, but it is a tad misleading when the ‘electro' side of the equation is so understatedly addressed.

One of the release's most appealing aspects is its two-disc presentation, with the first focusing on relatively shorter works and the second a single, long-form organ setting. Disc one's six settings, which allow for the breadth of Singer's musical interests to be accounted for, are inaugurated by “A Different Place,” a strings-centric exercise in orchestral minimalism that follows an elegiac intro with intense string stabs that are markedly more aggressive, violent even, than the classical minimalism norm. Her electro-acoustic side moves to the fore during “Ceò” when processing treatments of various kinds are applied to acoustic piano, resulting in a setting that embeds the instrument within an aquatic swirl of mutating ambient textures, sonar pings, and bowed string effects.

As fine as all of the first disc's settings are (none prettier and more entrancing than “Wrangham”), two stand out as particularly compelling: the title tack, because its eleven minutes of organ-and-strings interplay makes the strongest argument possible on behalf of Singer's composing gifts; and “Eilean,” for the way in which this 2009 commission by the Aberdeenshire Council threads stirring extracts of Scottish fiddler Paul Anderson's “Land of the Standing Stones” into Singer's meditative drone framework.

At twenty-six minutes, “The Molendinar” affords Singer ample room to explore the way wind funnels through the Union Chapel organ's pipes. Drawing on drone and minimalism traditions, the setting gradually swells in volume and density, its thick chords wavering in place for extended moments until, like some slowed-down Glass pattern, simple organ figures emerge against the droning backdrop to give the piece an understated melodic dimension. The juxtaposition of droning chords and a repeating motif (especially when it ascends in characteristic Glass fashion) makes for an arresting listen. Though all seven of Solas's pieces could have fit onto a single CD, it feels right that the second disc features “The Molendinar” only. In this case, the impact of a setting so representative of its creator is maximized by the stand-alone presentation.

August 2016