Slow Six: Nor'easter
New Albion

Slow Six: Private Times in Public Places
Western Vinyl

Led by composer Christopher Tignor, Brooklyn-based electroacoustic outfit Slow Six has been creating stately electronic chamber music since 1998 and, if there's any justice, should find itself on the receiving end of celebratory garlands of praise for these ravishing albums (some have weighed in already: Time Out New York named the group's debut, Private Times In Public Places, one of the Top 10 classical recordings of 2004). Though both works are exquisite, they're dramatically different in character, with the debut the more serene and minimally arranged of the two—Debussyian impressionism versus Schoenbergian expressionism, perhaps.

There's a temptation to position Slow Six within modern classical music's post-minimalist branch but doing so is misguided, as the group's music generally downplays the systems-based repetitiveness associated with that style (though it is hard to ignore a strong Steve Reich connection during the debut album's third piece). Slow Six's pieces unfold more naturally and organically by comparison, as they guide the listener unhurriedly through forests of lyrical beauty produced by strings, Rhodes, electric guitar, and real-time digital signal processing. Throughout Private Times In Public Places' three pieces (the longest a half-hour), Maxim Moston's violin glides gracefully over placid atmospheres generated by Jeffrey Guimond's Rhodes, Peter Cressy's guitar, and Tignor's gossamer electronic textures. The occasionally keening, rustic tone of Moston's playing deepens the music's lullaby-like reverie and, in the even more stripped-down “Evening Without Atonement,” his violin at times becomes a faint whisper. Slow Six's music unfolds in a lulling, slow-motion pace that encourages immersion as it subtly swells in volume and intensity at key moments. A ponderous, quietly insistent waltz rhythm prods the violin, viola, and cello throughout the thirty-minute “The Lines We Walked When We Walked Once Together” with Rhodes and guitar offering supple support during the journey.

The pieces are as immersive and occasionally as long on Nor'easter but the later work finds the group ambitiously extending its sound into darker and more emotionally charged territory during the album's six compositions. The change is signified mere moments into the opening “The Pulse of This Skyline with Lightning Like Nerves” when dense string clusters cross swords agitatedly and, after eight minutes, seem to almost scream when they swoop heavenward; needless to say, the strings' aggressive attack on Nor'easter is light years removed from the serenading approach heard throughout Private Times In Public Places. Sonically, the troupe's sound broadens out too (guitar, for example, is given a spotlight in “Echolalic Transitions” and piano plays a more prominent role in both parts of the closing “Distant Light”) without losing the elegiac dimension of the debut. Emphasizing its ‘classical' side, Slow Six performs “Hold Fast That Fragile Symmetry” in a dramatic and eerie chamber music style that at times calls to mind Bartok and Second Viennese School composers (Berg, Webern, Schoenberg).

In these two releases, Slow Six accomplishes something very rare in creating spellbinding art music that's wholly accessible to the masses without suffering any compromise to its artistic integrity.

November 2007