27 November 2015

Rytis Mazulis - Canon Mensurabilis

Before I start my usual ramblings, my brief absence has been the combination of having my first visitor from the UK and being knee deep in other tasks. It has allowed me to spend some time thinking about who on earth do I discuss next. It then suddenly struck me, it has to be Rytis Mazulis next. Having been in Vilnius now for three months, I have been able to see the magnitude of Mazulis's cult status. A quiet man, who is regularly found walking up and down the corridors of the academy, from my own encounters coffee is one of the main motivations for Mazulis's wanderings up around the academy.

Rytis Mazulis (1961*) when he was a student studied with Bronius Kutavicius in the M.K. Ciurlionis School of Arts, then went on to study with Julius Juzeliunas in the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre. Mazulis is often described as a 'machinist' composer (not to be misread as 'masochist' composer), for those unfamiliar with the title; 'machinism' supposedly music which ultimately is very mechanic. Ultimately this is kind of true, but tells you nothing about what the music sounds like. I also dislike the title because of its use as an extension of minimalism. This is something that also misses the mark, a significant amount of Mazulis's music is canonic, ultimately a never ending canon, or a perpetually circling canon which is positively medieval, not minimalism.

Rytis Mazulis also often incorporates microintervallic gestures into his music, which is often used to blur the landscape or to simply distort the canon, but always producing hypnotic results. I remember just over a year ago Rytis told me about how when Horatiu Radulescu was in Vilnius, Radulescu kept telling Mazulis off for using microtones in the 'wrong' way.

 I digress, another element of Mazulis's music is the form. Ultimately in Mazulis's works, the form is in one direction, going from start to 'finish'. Inside the music, will be small evolutions and distortions, but never recapitulating in any sort of 'classical' sense. This combined with the hypnotic sounds is one of the many things that drew me to Mazulis's works, they hold you and simply are, there isn't any real extra nonsense on top of it. Any listener can hear the results.

The piece I wanted to show is 'Canon Mensurabilis' written in 2000 for the ensemble 'Ensemble Court-Circuit'. Like the medieval canon, the work is focused on a canon with different voices moving at different speeds. But on top of this Mazulis has some fun fluctuations and distortions running at the same time. Firstly the beat patterns change in patterns of:
(12-6) (10-5) (8-4) (6-3) (4-2) (3-6) (4-8) (5-10) (12-6) (10-5) (8-4) (6-3) (4-2)

This irregular pulsing ultimately distorts all sensation of rhythm as the predictability is constantly distorted. The semi-quaver pulse in the piano feels unrelenting and constant. On top of this the use of microintervals also distorts the soundscape. The piano from C3-B4 are tuned a quarter down. C4-C5 are unchanged, and C#5-C#6 are tuned a quarter up. On top of this the violin and flute (who are with C#5-C#6) play a quarter tone, the clarinet and viola do not play microintervals. The cello (who is within C3-B4) plays a quarter tone up. This combination of microintervals produces 'out of tune' semitonal clashes, which resolve. But always circling. The result is hypnotic and mind boggling, if 60s hippie bands had access to this instead of the sitar they would have had their brains fried.

But enough chit-chat here is the piece:

 Until next time. 

6 November 2015

Anna Veismane: Wings

With the past few posts being consistently full of Lithuanian composers, you would be forgiven to think I am only going to discuss Lithuanians. Now GAIDA has finished, I thought this would be a great opportunity to discuss a recent Latvian gem I have uncovered.

The composer in question is Anna Veismane (1976*) a composer who I am surprised it took me so long to discover her. A pupil of Peteris Vasks and Romualds Kalsons, to name just two of her teachers. Her music and herself don't need too much of an introduction, due mostly to the wonderful clarity in her work. But to show her off a bit, she has worked with ensembles and musicians all over the world like the North/South Chamber Orchestra (USA), Latvian Radio Choir, William Schimmel, and The Concorde Contemporary Music Ensemble, to name but a few. I have never really been fond of just quoting someone's biography, but for me it simply highlights how many composers who are pretty busy writing for ensembles worldwide go under the radar, especially in the sheltered musical environment of Britain.

But I digress, today's post is merely an introduction to one piece for cello and accordion called Wings. The work was written and performed by TWOgether duo, at the Latvian Music Days 2014. The second work by Veismane with the title, the first being a piece for solo flute. The duo is pretty captivating, starting with timid flashes and flutters of sound. Hearing the gestures pass from cello to accordion and vice versa is always fascinating, due to the quite dynamic separating the two instruments becomes almost impossible. Then suddenly a strong gesture from the cello bursts from the music into a beautiful frenzy, with small circling motifs combined with clusters in the accordion. The energy is slowly released, and the duo shimmer and die away into nothing.

The work isn't overtly grand or revolutionary, but it is just a nice fresh piece of music. Every gesture and idea is refreshing to listen to and is something I have been listening to on loop for a fair while now. Its also always nice to just come across a gripping miniature. Sometimes the most gripping pieces of music are tiny, just look at Farben from Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, or Webern's symphony. 

Enjoy the piece here, but I also recommend people check out her website here. Some recordings of her works are present and they are definitely pieces I will want to discuss in future posts. Until next time!