The photograph of an abstract woven landscape, hand-knitted by the composer’s brother, is what first meets the eye. Calmly deliberate, the strips of green, gold, blue, and grey, horizontals and gentle diagonals, evoke patience and self-effacement. For those holding the recording in physical form, an image of the craft-work appears again on the disc’s surface, this time seen from a tight angle, showing the threads emerge from the landscape’s woven surface.
Such feeling for perspectives is a good match for the material gathered here, this music of sustained contemplation and balance, with its shifting layers and inter-twinings. Drawing together material from different projects spanning nearly a decade, this collection of pieces for strings is the first release solely devoted to music by Jonathan Nangle.
The hints of minimalism and the focus on string instruments (with occasional extra electronic resonance), perhaps recall the early experiments of the Kronos Quartet, or Arvo Pärt. Reflecting the situation of a composer whose day-job revolves around music technology, the soundworld interleaves natural and artificial resonances—if such a distinction still means anything in recorded media—suggesting sonic objects that are as much sculpted as composed.
The opening track, Where distant city lights flicker on half-frozen ponds, for solo violin with electronic resonators, is played with cool detachment by Aoife Ní Bhriain. The title comes from a 2010 review of Gerhard Richter’s ‘Cage (1)-(6)’ sequence of richly abstract paintings, themselves tributes to the work of composer John Cage. Given the sense of improvisation that creeps into this and other tracks, this external, third-hand, reference—whether intended or not—offers a radical and fascinating subtext. The piece is a variation-like series of fragmentations on a simple musical idea, and the resonators bring added focus to the timbre and harmonics of the violin, while adding an atmospheric shimmer to the whole.
The gentle waves that pass through the viola/cello duo My heart stopped a thousand beats (played with intense beauty by Lisa Dowdall and Kate Ellis) evoke the slowed breathing of meditative silence, with long, stretched chords that only break up at the very end. This is bookmarked on either side by the much shorter Fragments I & II for four instruments, improvised washes of sound that evoke the much older soundworld of the viol consort.
The title track, Pause, for the same instrumentation (violin, viola, cello, double bass), ups the tempo with its scraps of melody and refines the sound of Fragments still further, as if seeking out points of energy and focus. Originally composed as the visual component to a video installation, Pause takes a short extract from a Charles Ives piece and subjects it to an episodic sequence of rearrangements, repetitions and glitches. The performance, by members of the Crash Ensemble, is riveting in its focus, the sound alternately warm and electrically incisive.
The implicit presence of electronic media is played out to the full in the closing track, Tessellate, for cello and electronics. The sudden appearance of a separate electronic track injects an element of techno, as well as dramatic impetus. Cellist Kate Ellis takes up her role in the dialogue with some assuredly virtuosic playing, bringing the disc to a close in an impetuous, even playful mood. Indeed, the playfulness is stretched even further with an unlisted extra piece at the end of the final track, like a ghost or afterthought, brief and tantalising. With impressive performances by members of the Crash Ensemble and the high level of production we have come to expect from Ergodos, this is an easy recommend.