Daniel Stephen Johnson was born in the desert and learned to play the violin. After studying viola and English at the University of Southern California, he wrote fiction at Columbia University. Then he moved to Connecticut, where he worked at a record shop and wrote about music, literature and comedy for the New Haven Advocate and the Believer. Now he lives in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and works as a sheet music salesman in Queens. Follow Daniel on Twitter at @linernotesdanny.
Cellist Mariel Roberts's 'Nonextraneous Sounds'
Q2 Music Album of the Week for September 17, 2012
Monday, September 17, 2012
There was some hand-wringing in recent years over the future of new music, going something like this: With no dominant musical paradigm to rebel against, will today's young composers lack a certain edge? Won't they lose focus, now that eclecticism is the order of the day?
Cellist Mariel Roberts's solo debut, "Nonextraneous Sounds," demonstrates that any such anxieties were, to put it mildly, misplaced. The music on this disc, by a range of rising young composers, is nothing short of gripping from the first note to the last, and it's thanks largely to the intense focus of these highly individual musicians.
Andy Akiho, for one — a jazz/pop-influenced steeldrum player — could be a poster boy for the plugged-in eclecticism of the new scene, and the hand of a less sophisticated artist very well might have stirred all of his influences into some tepid muddle. But his Three Shades, Foreshadows, strips the infinite possibilities offered by the sound of prepared cello(!) and electronics down to the highly specific aural palette of a virtual percussion ensemble. And while the repeated figures of Sean Friar's Teaser metamorphose from classical cadence to rock riff and back again, he manages it without indulging in crossover-y cheapness.
Actually, it's difficult to imagine a composer more focused than Tristan Perich. The disc's most affecting piece, his twenty-minute Formations for cello with microchip accompaniment, drags the listener into the glorious monomania of Perich's ongoing "1-bit music" project, combining retro electronics with a musical language reminiscent of early "minimalist" process music.
These composers do ultimately have at least one thing in common: they've all paid extremely close attention to the sound of the cello. Daniel Wohl's Saint Arc and Alex Mincek's Flutter both grow out of the faintest whisper of a bow on string — in Wohl's case, into a luminous electronic soundscape; in Mincek's, into raw, even assaultive sonorities.
By playing a program this well-curated, with this much confidence, precision and good old-fashioned muscle, Roberts is not so much "making a statement," artistically speaking, as she is sounding an alarm. Listeners should come running.
Audio no longer available.