Zoë Madonna is a writer, amateur accordionist, and yarn hoarder based in Boston. A 2015 graduate of Oberlin College, she was awarded the 2014 Rubin Prize for Music Criticism. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe and on icareifyoulisten.com.
TAK Ensemble Conjures Magical Realism in Taylor Brook's 'Ecstatic Music'
Monday, September 05, 2016
Like the final draft from an imaginative, unrestrained author with volumes of world-building stacked on their desk, Taylor Brook's music arrives deeply thought out and replete with paradoxes. The works on TAK Ensemble’s debut album Ecstatic Music incorporate a punctilious 72-note microtonal system and guitar machines programmed to specific frequencies, yet no two performances of the pieces can ever be exactly the same. Earlier this year, Q2 Music featured the Mivos Quartet’s Garden of Diverging Paths, which took its title from Brook's voracious Borges-inspired piece. Bands of magical realism stripe Ecstatic Music as well, and the players perform with the fearlessness that Brook’s music requires.
The album’s most electrifying offering is its centerpiece. Five Weather Reports, on text from David Ohle’s 1972 cult novel Motorman, broadcasts from a bizarre biome which may cease to be entirely fictional if the Earth’s environmental decline continues. You expect to hear certain words during a weather report; “high of 65, scattered showers possible.” Substitute one, or add one that shouldn’t be there, and suddenly reality shifts, the sky changing color. Basso profundo electronics ground expansive cumulonimbus textures of violin, clarinet and flute. The matter of fact voice on the radio (here, the bracing, piquant soprano of Charlotte Mundy) takes off into song as if enveloped in a prairie twister, sideslipping into another map. “Birdfall seasonal to normal,” she intones. “Two suns cooling at the horizon. Animals should be sheltered, travelers are warned.”
Ecstatic Music is the album’s most obviously idiosyncratic piece, and the performers communicate in Brook's musical dialect like native speakers. Violinist Marina Kifferstein whips around guttural, unpredictable glissandi, and percussionist Ellery Trafford utilizes the entire bodies of two retuned guitars. Idolum explores a surreal fusion of machinery and humanity; Kifferstein’s violin and Laura Cocks’s flute waft and roil, a fluid fusion over metallic drones from two performers’ interactions with motion sensor controlled guitars. Barbed sounds begin to pierce the flow, and the shimmering fog briefly clears to allow the acoustic instruments to blaze in full color with a feverish duet passage before they recede behind the silvery veil again, fading away.
Amalgam, the final vignette in this collection, is a perspective illusion. The first half alloys phrase-shards from every voice into brooding monophony, each strand coming into the forefront and fading into the background too quickly to think. It then splits into a haunting heterophony, punctuated on soft bells and quick flights across the violin’s open strings. It sweeps along, a devotional from beyond the realm of rationality, where “blister snow falls from chuff clouds,” and the sensual and unsettling is embraced as natural.
Ecstatic Music: TAK Ensemble plays Taylor Brook
New Focus Recordings | Available Sept. 9