counter)induction: Against Method
including works with guitar by Kyle Bartlett, Alvin Singleton, and Diego Tedesco
"Chamber ensemble/composer collective counter)induction celebrates twenty years together with the recording Against Method. It consists of pieces contributed by composers associated with the collective as well those by “guest composers.” counter)induction has distinguished itself with a versatile approach to new music, selecting works with a keen eye toward musicality and a clear resistance to stylistic dogma. Against Method neatly encapsulates this approach.
Douglas Boyce’s Hunt by Night is an ostinato filled trio at a propulsive tempo for clarinet, cello, and piano. The piece also features glissandos and blurred microtonal inflections that offset the repeated pitches and chords nicely. Before, by Kyle Bartlett, is another trio, this time for clarinet, cello, and guitar. Wisps of texture are succeeded by noisy angularity with scratch tone effects. The unity provided by shared effects makes this broken consort sound at times like a single instrument. The sound spectrum moves between noise and dissonant counterpoint to create formal boundaries. Further along, the trio breaks up into characterful solos, notably a lithe cadenza by guitarist Daniel Lippel, which concludes the work.
Lippel switches to electric guitar, accompanied by clarinetist Benjamin Fingland, vibraphonist Jeffrey Irving, cellist Caleb van der Swaagh, pianist Renate Rolfing, and bassist Randall Zigler in Alvin Singleton’s Ein Kleines Volkslied. Rock-inspired chord progressions are played on the guitar, tremolando strings are emphatically rendered at key points alongside bluesy clarinet riffs, pizzicato bass, and jazz-inflected vibraphone arpeggiations. A bustling section overlaps these various playing styles, cut off again and again by tremolandos only to reassert itself. Bass clarinet, guitar, and vibes take over, their parts fragmenting the motives found in the beginning of the piece. Finally, a pileup of all the various elements creates a contrapuntal conclusion. Fingland plays Jessica Meyer’s Forgiveness, in which a loop pedal plays a prominent role. Air through the mouthpiece begins the piece followed by sustained pitches, all of which the loop pedal allows to overlap into clustered textures and tight counterpoint. Looping has become a favorite of new music composers, but Meyer distinguishes her piece with an organic approach to the sounds of playing and a fine ear for the pitch relationships that result in overlapping.
Ryan Streber’s Piano Quartet is the most formidable composition on Against Method. The various instruments move at different rates, creating a Carterian sense of time flow. Streber also has a finely attuned ear for the selection and spacing of post-tonal harmonies. The linear component, with a number of imitative passages, is also finely wrought. The ensemble comprehensively knows the piece, delivering a performance that is assured and engaging throughout.
The recording concludes with Scherzo by Diego Tedesco, a piece filled with descending chromatic scales that provide a jocular motive that appears in countless contexts throughout the piece. Tedesco blends pizzicatos from guitar and strings to good effect, followed by the aforementioned glissandos in cascading overlaps of sound. Particularly affecting is the middle section, which is an “eye of the storm” where the piece’s motives are fragmented and delicately hued. Clarinet and guitar are given an extended duet that is followed by an eruptive passage in the strings. Pizzicato and glissandos succeed in turn to create a clear juxtaposition of playing styles, at key points blending to create transitions between sections. Tight dissonances between violin and clarinet ratchet up the tension, which is finally allowed release in a sustained note from the clarinet followed by violin multi-stops. Scherzo is well- constructed, devised to show counter)induction to their best advantage. Top to bottom, Against Method is a stirring listen."
-Christian Carey, Sequenza 21, November 2020
Against Method celebrates a landmark anniversary for veteran New York new music ensemble counter)induction. Their two decades of musical life are a testament to their focused artistic vision, vibrancy of performances, and tenacity of spirit. This recording, featuring works by c)i’s member composers alongside music by two guests, captures the fundamental subversion at the core of the ensemble’s ethos -- the prioritization of substance over fashion, despite the existential pressures on a group of its kind in our contemporary landscape.
Douglas Boyce’s vigorous trio etude for clarinet, cello, and piano The Hunt by Night opens the program. Boyce writes that the piece, “is a modern caccia wherein the temporal orientations of the three musicians are bundled and re-bundled as the players shift roles from pursuer to pursued, from leader to outsider, from furious precision to savage confusion.” The virtuosity in this music is physical and mental, balancing the deft passagework with the vigilance needed to navigate the quickly shifting meters and shuffled motives.
A second trio, this time for bass clarinet, cello, and guitar, Kyle Bartlett’s Before is the expressive anthesis of the Boyce, swapping hardiness for delicate tactility and breadth of permutation for depth of examination. Bartlett’s music unfolds at the pace of an inner emotional dialogue, pausing when necessary to absorb the import of a certain expressive phrase, or digging in to an uncomfortable timbre to mine its essence. This balance between the poetic and visceral impulses binds together the sectional structure of Before.
Alvin Singleton’s Ein Kleines Volkslied was written for the Bang on a Can All-Stars in 1997 and is based on the Scottish folk song, “Annie Laurie.” Singleton establishes fixed vocabularies of musical material for each of the instruments in the sextet. The sparseness of the orchestration throughout much of the work gives way to density as Singleton merges the disparate threads together into a brief closing climax. The work’s gesture towards populism is subverted by an injection of complexity and abstraction. The balance between populism and modernism notwithstanding, the playful pun on Mozart in the title sets the tone for this lightly bittersweet piece.
Written for her husband Benjamin Fingland, Jessica Meyer’s Forgiveness captures the intimacy and intricacy of negotiating long term relationships. Using a looper pedal, Meyer begins with a range of breath sounds that merge with sustained melodic fragments. Bent notes and subtle ornaments enhance the expressive quality of the looped gestures as registral expansion opens up into a rich, modal texture.
Ryan Streber’s Piano Quartet engages reverently with its venerable instrumentation. A neoclassical strain underlies its shifts from a tranquil, harmonic haze to taut, contrapuntal episodes. The work is Haydnesque is its motivic economy -- developed from a short, six note melodic ideé fixe, Streber permeates the different characters of the work with this material, allowing it to drive the formal discourse. The dynamic interplay between the instruments alternates between interwoven passagework and ethereal suspensions, culminating in a rhapsodic climax.
Closing the program is Argentine composer Diego Tedesco’s Scherzo for clarinet, guitar, violin, viola, and cello, written for counter)induction in 2019. The “joke” of the piece is encapsulated in a simple descending chromatic scale, from which much of the melodic material for the work is drawn. Tedesco writes specific and colorful expression indications in the score -- “blues,” “burlesque,” “desolate” -- and his fluid, gestural writing allows the performers to inject the texture with these characters. The ensemble is sometimes treated as a hybrid unit and other times in subgroups, establishing interrelationships between the instruments and players that speak to the core of what is so unique and magical about chamber music.
And interrelationships are indeed at the heart of what counter)induction is about -- dialogue, both while making music as well as in the process of curation, is the driving force behind the ensemble. In this sense, counter)induction has always strived to be a microcosm of an idealized community, one in which consensus is arrived at through the free exchange of ideas and the delicate process of compromise. It is a formula that has helped the group endure for twenty years, and this celebration of that milestone is yet another manifestation of c)i’s commitment to its set of aesthetic principles.