Scott Wollschleger: Soft Aberration
New Focus Recordings

Soft Aberration features five provocative chamber settings by Brooklyn-based Scott Wollschleger (b.1980), whose oft-pointillistic pieces boldly challenge accepted notions of musical form. Like many a New Focus Recordings release, multiple interpreters have been gathered to present the composer's work, with both parties mutually benefiting. If the music seems like an especially good fit in this case, there's a good explanation for it: each composition was commissioned by the performer in question and thus written expressly with that performer in mind.

Wollschleger's material is extremely well-served by the personnel involved, all of them forward-thinking advocates of contemporary music who bring impressive credentials to the project. Longleash, for example, distinguished itself recently with its own full-length, Passage, and the trio's cellist, John Popham, not only appears in Longleash's performance of Brontal Symmetry but also the solo cello work America. Others also bring group affiliations to Wollschleger's recording, among them loadbang member Andy Kozar, whose trumpet pairs with soprano Corrine Byrne on Bring Something Incomprehensible Into This World, while violist Anne Lanzilotti has performed as a guest artist with Alarm Will Sound and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). In addition, pianist Karl Larson recently collaborated with Bearthoven, whose Trios was released on Cantaloupe earlier this year, and Ashley Bathgate, with whom he released Restless, a collection of Ken Thomson's music, in late 2016.

Wollschleger's penchant for the micro-gesture is exemplified by Longleash's rendering of Brontal Symmetry, which violinist Pala Garcia, pianist Renate Rohlfing John, and cellist Popham execute with their customary precision. If the piece feels like an assemblage of bits and pieces, that's the effect Wollschleger was after: built from “discarded scraps” from other pieces, Brontal Symmetry sees the performers jump-cutting from one part to another and fluctuating between pensive, comical, mechanical, and macabre sections. Even so, a through-line asserts itself, not only here but in Popham's solo performance of America, that ensures musicality overrides any impression of randomness.

Performed by Larson and Lanzilotti, the ponderous title piece naturally invokes Morton Feldman in its handling of space and time, with pregnant pauses in abundance and minimal piano and viola phrases echoing one another in ghostly manner. In an inspired move, the three parts of Bring Something Incomprehensible Into This World are dispersed throughout the recording, with trumpeter Kozar and soprano Byrne demonstrating an arresting symbiosis in their melding of voice and trumpet timbres. In the first part, Byrne's voicing of the text, presented as single words and syllables, is matched by a similar deconstruction by Kozar's muted horn, his dynamic playing characterized by wah-wah gestures and short bursts.

Still, perhaps the most arresting of the album's five compositions is White Wall, whose two parts are performed hauntingly by the Mivos String Quartet (violinists Olivia de Prato and Josh Modney, violist Victor Lowrie, and cellist Mariel Roberts). Consistent with the work's title, white noise techniques are applied to bowed strings as a ground from which wispy harmonics and insectile melodic figures emerge. The composition not only serves as a fascinating sound exercise in itself but as a representative exemplar of Wollschleger's pointillistic style, with the composer intrepidly testing the boundaries of conventional musical form with an unusual array of textural effects.

November 2017