Christopher Tignor: Core Memory Unwound
Western Vinyl

On his debut under his given name, Slow Six leader Christopher Tignor translates the innovative, forward-thinking sensibility of his group's work into a stripped-down solo setting where he's joined by fellow violinist (and Silk Road Ensemble member) Colin Jacobsen and pianist Margaret Kampmeier. Tignor's approach on Core Memory Unwound isn't wholly different from the approach documented on the two Slow Six recordings: his sumptuous violin playing is again prominently heard but he also “remixes” about half of the solo recording's material using custom-designed software programs (Mnemonica and StreamSequencer) that allow him to generate real-time sampling and sound transformation using a keyboard controller.

Core Memory Unwound is a memory work in both metaphorical and literal senses, with the former exemplified in the wistful character of the acoustic settings and literal in that those three settings are followed by live makeovers that Tignor deems “memory portraits.” As a result, we first hear “Last Thought at Night” scale the music back to its essence with piano and violin weaving sinuously in an elegant pas de deux, and then “Last Nights on Eagle Street,” where multi-layered string arpeggios surge and swell behind the minimal piano theme, the collective mass generating a chamber group density that approximates Slow Six in style. If echoes of “Last Thought at Night” audibly re-appear within “Last Nights on Eagle Street,” so they naturally should given that the latter is the live remix of its acoustic kin. Similarly, Jacobsen deepens the collective sound by adding violin to the meditative unfurl of “Meeting in a Colored Shadow,” after which “Core Memory Unwound” re-fashions it into an hypnotic, slow-moving swirl of strings and piano. As one might expect, the acoustic settings are sparse and Feldman-esque in character, while the versions that follow are fuller and denser. It's an inspired and enlivening concept that can't help but add contrast to a fifty-four-minute collection that proves more rewarding to engage with as a result.

Kampmeier plays with restraint throughout, playing sparse single-note passages and chords that establish a given piece's tonal center. Though she largely restricts herself to chords throughout “Meeting in a Colored Shadow 2,” the dynamic range she demonstrates—dramatic and intense one moment, fragile the next—speaks volumes. Here too Tignor's command of the violin's dynamic range is fully evident, moving effortlessly from a crepuscular sigh to a gently swooping cry. Devotional in spirit, the beautiful, two-part “Cathedral” has Tignor playing Mnemonica alongside his guests, sampling in real-time from a microphone inside the piano, and generating a silken string background that's a stirring support for the sparse colourations at the forefront. Traces of other composers occasionally seep into the music: Feldman as mentioned, but also Satie and minimalists too (alternating between churning sections of string-based and stick percussion rhythms, “Left in Fragments” nudges the music in the direction of the systems-based style long associated with Glass and Reich). Tignor's intimate neo-classical tone poems for piano, violins, and software can be appreciated on strictly musical grounds and as a bold re-imagining of classical music's possibilities.

June 2009