Regular readers may recall that this month began with an “examination” of Clockworking, a new album from Sono Luminus featuring recent compositions by five Icelandic women all performed on period instruments. One of those composers was Anna Thorvaldsdottir; and this past Friday Sono Luminus released another new album, this time consisting entirely of her music. The title of the album is In the Light of Air, which is also the title of the principal work on this recording.
The accompanying booklet allows Thorvaldsdottir to explain this piece in her own words, beginning with this useful structural summary; “In the Light of Air is a tetralogy of works that together form a unified structure, written for viola, cello, harp, piano, percussion & electronics. The four main movements are titled Luminance, Serenity, Existence and Remembrance, and are connected by Transitions to form a seamless flow throughout the work. The work also has a Prologue and an Epilogue.”
This turns out to be a bit confusing for those who like to follow compositions, particularly long ones, with the aid of a track listing. The problem is that there is a final track, that happens to be entitled “Transitions,” that has nothing to do with In the Light of Air. It was composed for cellist Michael Nicolas as a solo work, probably after In the Light of Air had been completed. (It is also the case that In the Light of Air has only four tracks, but this should not confuse the listener used to extended works having both a prologue and an epilogue.)
This is a minor quibble for a piece that turns out to be a highly engaging listening experience. The piece was written through the support of ICElab, a program that fosters close collaboration between emerging composers and the musicians of ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble). In this case the participating musicians were Nicolas, Kyle Armbrust (viola), Nuiko Wadden (harp), Cory Smythe (piano), and Nathan Davis (percussion). ICE was a resident ensemble this past June at the 2015 Ojai Music Festival, and In the Light of Air was included as part of an “Ojai Sunrise” concert that begin at 8 a.m. (Unfortunately, the title was incorrectly permuted in the announcement of the Festival schedule.)
My previous account of Clockworking observed that there were subtle qualities to the music that may have depended on technical production skills to provide the listener with the necessary feeling of proximity. In the Light of Air shares many of those subtle qualities, but there is a strong sense that Thorvaldsdottir’s selection of contemporary instruments should hold up particularly well in any satisfactory performing space. Indeed, the music is endowed with spatial qualities that are probably best appreciated by listening to the Blu-ray version of the recording (included in the album) that supports a Surround Sound system. Nevertheless, those more interested in the music, rather than the technology, can still appreciate the distinctive features of Thorvaldsdottir’s rhetorical skills. Indeed, those skills may be appreciated even more through the solo cello composition, which explores the relationship between man and machine through techniques that include using the cello for percussive, as well as bowed, styles of performance. The overall result is that both compositions make for highly rewarding listening experiences.