Inoo-Kallay Duo: Five Conversations About Two Things
Populist Records' seventh formal release pools the talents of pianist Aron Kallay and percussionist Yuri Inoo as they tackle five new works by Southern California-based composers. Though the instrumentation involved might suggest that the recording is purely acoustic, that's not entirely the case, as the material occasionally ventures into explorative electroacoustic territory. Kallay, for one, is involved in numerous new music-related ventures: he's the co-founder of People Inside Electronics (PIE), a concert series dedicated to classical electroacoustic music; the managing director of MicroFest, Los Angeles' annual festival of microtonal music; and the co-director of the underground new-music concert series Tuesdays@MONK Space. Inoo, an LA-based native of Kanagawa, Japan, is similarly forward-thinking: she's performed and collaborated with artists such as Steve Reich and Evelyn Glennie, and is a founding member of the Tokyo-based percussion ensemble bloom and the Varied Trio in Los Angeles. In tune with their adventurous sensibilities, the five premieres featured on Five Conversations About Two Things draw upon the musicians' ability to integrate advanced techniques and treatments into their playing.
Composed by Thomas Osborne for Inoo in 2004, Like Still Water eases the listener into the hour-long release gently, almost surreptitiously. Scored for piano, vibraphone, marimba, and water-filled crystal glasses, the seven-minute setting functions as a meditative scene-setter in the graceful way its sounds, glass-like textures among them, ripple across the music's smooth surface. Bill Alves' provocatively titled The Question Mark's Black Ink (taken from the poem “Subconscious” by S.L. Hough) expands on the acoustic soundworld of the opener in complementing the piano and percussion elements with electronic tape. The way in which it's incorporated is anything but gratuitous, however: the tape's sounds are derived from the live instruments as they're played, and the musicians are synchronized to this tape by “click tracks” and other cues they hear via headphones. What results is a wide-ranging, eighteen-minute travelogue that engages on both melodic and experimental grounds. Augmented by a background electronic hum, delicate tinklings of piano and percussion interweave during one episode, while another finds the two plunging into a forcefield of glassy shards and shimmer. Alves' material alternates between moments of agitation and calm, the music at times intense and at other times soothing. In keeping with the cantilena form, Karl Kohn composed his 2011 composition Cantilena III so that its character and tone would be song-like, lyrical, and rhapsodic. Performed by the duo on marimba and piano, the piece unfolds as a dialogue between the instruments with Kallay and Inoo engaging in spirited exchanges throughout its eight minutes.
Of the five works featured on the release, it's Caroline Louise Miller's Elliptic that is the most overtly programmatic. Drawing inspiration from a haunting, sci-fi dream involving a pair of towering black monoliths (obviously reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey) and an ellipsoid-shaped water-planet, the three-part setting begins with the dramatically evocative “Distorted Sundown ~ Golden Moonrise”—as much electronic soundscape as anything—before advancing on to the cataclysmic “Earthrise ~ Anarchy” and comparatively peaceful “Exodus.” For Wagon Wheeling, Tom Flaherty drew upon the optical illusion that occurs in a film when a wagon wheel seems to be spinning slowly or even moving backwards. In similar manner, the work's rhythmic material seems to both spin furiously forward and slow down, an impression that consequently induces a jarring experience of tempo within the listener. Wagon Wheeling, which Flaherty wrote for Kallay, ends the album on a lighter note by coyly threading into its design references to a country waltz and galloping horses.
Being of such consistently high quality, Five Conversations About Two Things ends up flattering both performers and composers alike. What especially impresses about the recording is the way it manages to in seemingly effortless manner straddle accessibility and experimentalism. While on the surface its piano-and-percussion instrumental make-up might appear traditional, the sensibilities involved are very much focused on the here and now.