Sean McCann: Music For Private Ensemble
Given its embrace of traditional compositional writing and improvisation, Sean McCann's Music For Private Ensemble locates itself somewhere between classical composition and electro-acoustic experimentalism. The thirty-nine-minute work evokes a symphony structure in its four parts, especially when each possesses such individuating character, and emphasizes traditional instrument sounds as opposed to electronics and synthesizers.
McCann's follow-up to 2011's The Capital appears to be performed by a chamber symphony whose playing, while professional, is not so professional that it's slick and faceless; if anything, there's an occasional rawness to the playing that reminds the listener that he/she is listening to music created by human beings, not machines. More precisely, one should say human being, as the material was performed using multi-tracking by McCann alone (the sole exception being vocalist Kayla Cohen whose singing appears near the end of the recording). Composed, recorded, and edited over a seventeen-month period, McCann plays violin, viola, cello, flute, piano, glockenspiel, and percussion on the recording, and supplements those sounds with samples of bassoon, french horn, and timpani. As many as 100 layers of instruments were created so that the impression of a full orchestra could be realized.
McCann acknowledges John Adams and Gavin Bryars as reference points, and the Adams influence is apparent in the kaleidoscopic colour of the arrangement in “Character Change” while traces of Bryars can be heard in the plaintive tone of “Introduction: Reservations / An Exchange of Courtesies Pts. 1 & 2,” especially during those sections where the emotional outpourings of keening violins, like supplicating mourners, appear. “Character Change” presents an auspicious counterpoint in mood to the opening piece when shimmering patterns of mallet instruments enliven the mood with effervescent sparkle. A dramatic mood change occurs once more when the convulsive free-flow of “City With All the Angles” surfaces, its assortment of voice effects, piano clusters, percussive flourishes, and wheezing strings suggestive of a live improv. Cohen's gentle wordless vocalizing enhances the becalmed aura of “Conclusion: Our Days of Generosity Are Over / Arden,” whose stately calm eschews any trace of the tumult heard in isolated moments on the recording. On technical grounds, Music For Private Ensemble is obviously a remarkable accomplishment, although of course that wouldn't count for much if the music didn't hold up on its own terms. Truth be told, it holds up very well indeed, especially when its four parts are so contrasting in mood and design.