Mirrored Spaces

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"Mirrored Spaces" is a double CD set of premieres for solo classical and electric guitar and with electronics by several composer colleagues: Ryan Streber, Orianna Webb, John Link, Kyle Bartlett, Sergio Kafejian, Douglas Boyce, Dalia With, Karin Wetzel, Sidney Corbett, Ethan Wickman, Christopher Bailey, and Lippel himself. Mirrored Spaces engages with many different parameters through which musical ideas are refracted, including microtonality, the aesthetics of electro-acoustic music, timbral exploration, and historical and extra-musical reference points.

"From guitarist Daniel Lippel comes a two-CD set containing a generous collection of recent work for solo guitarist. On the recording Lippel, a virtuoso specializing in the contemporary repertoire for guitar, plays both nylon string classical guitar and electric guitar, conventionally and with extended technique, with and without electronic augmentation. But no matter the instrumental set-up or the musical setting, Lippel’s performances are characteristically deft and assured.

No brief review can do justice to the rich variety of music in this collection. One can only say: Listen."

- Avant Music News, Daniel Barbiero, 11.4.2019

"Even if Lippel never released another album under his own name, we would all owe him a debt for his wise and generous steering of the ship that is New Focus Recordings, which issues a seemingly endless stream of great albums each year. And that's not to mention his superb work within many ensembles, ICE and counter)induction among them. But here he has followed up last year's remarkable "...through which the past shines" with yet another gift, a vast collection across the possibilities of guitar music as sprawling and adventurous as the White Album, featuring pieces by Orianna Webb, John Link, Kyle Bartlett, Douglas Boyce, Ryan Streber, Ethan Wickman, Christopher Bailey, Dalia R. With, Sergio Kafejian, Karin Wetzel, Sidney Corbett, and Lippel himself. From solo acoustic gems like Wickman's Joie Divisions to electro-acoustic works like the alternately sparkling and serrated Like Minds by Link, Lippel wants us to hear it all, feel it all, and marvel at it all.

The project has its roots in a 2008 performance, represented here by a live recording of Lippel's own Scaffold for electric guitar, full of moody string-bending, feedback and distortion, which will echo in your head long after the album ends. I'll leave it to the sociologists to look into why, after a peripatetic series of collaborations, premieres and recording sessions, "Mirrored Spaces" comes to us in the same season as All Mirrors by Angel Olsen or mirrored heart by FKA Twigs, but I will say it is as vital a reflection of our times as either of those fertile and exploratory journeys into the heart of pop expressionism. I will be listening to, and taking nourishment from, Mirrored Spaces for quite some time. I suggest you start now." - An Earful, 11.30.2019

"One disc I’ll certainly not be able to do justice in this limited space is guitarist Daniel Lippel’s double CD “Mirrored Spaces” (FCR239 NewFocusRecordings.com). I would normally be daunted by the prospect of two and a half hours of solo guitar music,but to my delight Lippel has produced such a diverse program that I didn’t notice the time passing. First and foremost, let me state that although he is a truly accomplished classical guitarist, from the dozen composers represented here, there are very few offerings that would be at home on a traditional Spanish guitar recital. Even in pieces such as Lippel’s own Reflected with its quasi-Renaissance feel, our equilibrium is thrown off-kilter by rapid microtonal passages. A number of the pieces involve electronics, live or otherwise. One that particularly struck me was Christopher Bailey’s Arc of Infinity in which I found myself wondering “What if?” the subtle electronic part was transcribed for live cimbalom – how different would that piece be? At any rate, it is extremely effective. While most of the recital is played on a traditional nylon string acoustic guitar, a number of tracks employ an electric instrument, from the gentle harmonics of Sidney Corbett’s Detroit Rain Song Graffiti, to the distortion, feedback and note bending of Lippel’s concluding Scaffold (live). Interspersed throughout the two discs are the nine movements of Kyle Bartlett’s Aphorisms, all using a traditional Spanish guitar, but utilizing a number of extended techniques. If you think you already know what a guitar sounds like, or think that a double CD would be a bit “much of a muchness,” I urge you to check out this remarkable disc."

- David Olds, The Whole Note

"Some albums have such a voluminous and well-defined yet complex conceptual framework that doing justice to it all within the limited time and space of a blog article seems daunting. Such a release I feel is most definitely at hand with virtuoso New Music guitarist Daniel Lippel and his two-CD album Mirrored Spaces (New Focus Recordings FCR239).

The idea of Mirrored Spaces took shape initially in a Lippel guitar concert of 2008 that forwarded three "Experiments in Co-Composition." which to varying degrees involved a compositional collaboration between performer (Lippel) and composer (others, Lippel). The present album expands the idea to a richly varied tapestry of works, including the original "Mirrored Spaces," "Descent," and "Scaffold" by, respectively, Orianna Webb and Lippel, Ryan Streber, and again, Daniel Lippel.

From there we hear another nine single- or multi-movement works here, all stemming from the collaborative idea and benefiting greatly from it.

The entire program, as Daniel states in the liners, makes metaphorical use of the idea of mirroring in our "appearance driven culture," with collaborations that give an alternate mirroring centered on the sound qualities and potential of the guitar, "its electronic doppelgangers," plus structure, progammaticity, history and usage of materials. Underlying this are factors regarding special tunings (scordatura), microtones, electro-acoustic aesthetics and the extended voice of the electric guitar.

Such concerns, taken all together, animate and inform the music yet too the results are quite a bit more than the sum of these conceptual parts in that the excelling comes out of the compositional-performative doing. That of course is how it always must be, nonetheless what is remarkable about this program is the how as much as the what.

From the first listen I was taken with it all. The works for electric guitar especially caught my attention because I have long thought there was great potential in an electric-New Music nexus. So the retuned electric springs forward dramatically in works by Sidney Corbett ("Detroit Rain Song Graffiti") and Ryan Streber ("Descent"). A live recording of Lippel's "Scaffold" is another great example of the electric and special tunings along with sustain worthy of the classic psychedelic guitar tradition. Note should also be made of Ethan Wickman's "Joie Division" and how it relates nicely to the electric idea with a combined acoustic part and simultaneous electronic counterplay. It is fascinating and dexterous, truly. There are many other gems too numerous to mention.

All of the program is fascinating and musically rich, showing great inventive and performative imagination, locking in a way of thinking about New Music and the guitar in a single breath, with a wide breadth for today (pardon the phrase). The collaborative idea indeed pays off with guitar-centric advancement that is informed by Lippel's intimate involvement with the instrument and the creative impetus of the composers to spur forward what the contemporary situation can give us.

It is a tour de force for an appealing and intensive synergy between the guitar and the latest compositional Modernisms. Hurrah!"

-- Grego Edwards, ClassicalModernMusic, 12/19

"This double album by guitarist, composer, producer, etc. Dan Lippel is sort of his Yellow Brick Road, an album which listeners of a certain age know well. Elton John’s album was more about dropping the shackles of adolescence and conformity but Mirrored Spaces is more about setting aside the shackles of Lippel’s very busy life with ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), Flexible Music, and the daunting task of producing for (the also very busy and wonderful) New Focus Recordings. Here he presents a virtual manifesto of works for solo guitar with electronics which, if only by proximity of release date, suggests a comparison with Jennifer Koh’s Limitless.

The present disc is at once a virtual CV of his interests as performer and composer as well as a forward looking compilation by which future new chamber music with guitar will be compared. It is a collection which looks like he culled the best of his current working repertoire to present a sort of photograph of his vision.

The two discs are actually an overwhelming listening experience of new material. Here are the tracks:

It’s easy to see the richness and complexity of this release from the track listing alone. Having already demonstrated his facility with minimalist classics like his wonderful recording of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint he presents selections from what appears to be his current active repertoire. It is a joy to see the diversity of composers he has chosen. Clearly he confronts the new and technically challenging works with the same zeal with which he approaches his various other responsibilities as performer and producer. We even get to hear some of his chops as a composer in the live recording of Scaffold as well as his collaborative work with Orianna Webb on the eponymous Mirrored Spaces. These are unusual works, not the “usual suspects” not the latest rage but new and interesting music. Even the presentation of Kyle Bartlett’s pithy Aphorisms are scattered among the other tracks like pepper on your salad at a restaurant (personally my obsessive nature wants to re-order these tracks in sequence) demonstrating a sensitivity to alternate ways to present music. I have at best a passing knowledge of most of these composers having heard some of the work of Douglas Boyce and some of Kyle Bartlett. I know Ryan Streber via his work as a recording engineer. The rest of the name are new to these ears. And that is exactly the point of this wonderful collection. I really can’t say much useful about the individual pieces except to say that they are compelling listening. The liner notes included in the CD release are useful and informative. (Now last I looked the CD version is not available on Amazon so you will have to go to Bandcamp to order it but I highly recommend it for the notes alone.) Many of these pieces will have a significant performance life and you heard them here first. Much as Jennifer Koh defines new collaborative adventures in Limitless with her trusty violin, Lippel brings his axe down on some challenging but substantive music in this forward looking collection."

— Allan Cronin, New Music Buff, January 9, 2020

"I thought I was a decent record collector. I thought I have a good discoteque by now, especially as regards contemporary guitar music, but this record made me immediately review my positions. Do you know how many double cds I have of contemporary classical guitar? Nobody. And believe me, I have a lot of them. I did a search on Discogs.com. I haven’t found any. This album is an exception.

I come from the noise. I come from rock, from popular music. In those lands the double albums, if they are not simple compilations of successes, are viewed with a mixture of respect, unbelief and veneration. They tell complex stories. Concept albums. The sum of their passages goes beyond a simple final arithmetic. From a double album the fan of popular music expects a broad and extensive narrative, a sort of cultural manifesto, or, as often happens on live recordings, a sort of summary of the best of the best.

How does a double album behave in the context of such a specific musical niche as that of contemporary guitar music? Does it keep that concentration of energies and visions typical of the popular music or does it move on to other semantic territories? “Mirrored Spaces” by guitarist Daniel Lippel is a double world premiere album of music by American composers Orianna Webb, John Link, Kyle Bartlett, Douglas Boyce, Ryan Streber, Ethan Wickman, Christopher Bailey and Lippel himself, as well as the composers of other lands like Dalia R. With (Lithuania), Sergio Kafejian (Brazil), Karin Wetzel (Switzerland) and Sidney Corbett (Germany).

The title tells us something more about this musical panorama, it’s a different program from the usual guitar recital, something more similar to a concept album where pieces with different qualities are “mirrored” and reflect with each other increasing the listening prospects and the possibilities of exploration within classical and electric guitar, electroacoustic music, structure and form, programmatic and historical relationships, alternative tunings and microtonality.

I would like to emphasize not only the high quality intrinsic to each pieces but also the intelligent way in which they have been proposed and amalgamated, reflected between them. “Mirrored Spaces” is an album that must be listened to in a religious and exact sequence, in order not to get lost in that maze of complexity that Daniel Lippel has proudly and intelligently created.

A decomposed and casual listening would alter that series of planes and reflected surfaces whose sum shows us a decidedly more articulated structure than that of a simple recital or single listening.

A listening that led me to other thoughts and other connections. While listening to the music of “Mirrored Spaces” I was reading the book “Per Volontà e per Caso” by Pierre Boulez, where the composer talks about his life and his music in a long interview with Célestin Deliège and I came across a significant sentence, where Boulez compares the phenomenon of the historical evolution of music to the objects placed under the limestone sources.

Due to the action of the wellsprings, even a fairly simple, even banal, object becomes petrified, becoming a wonderful and balanced object. Then the fount continues to drip and, progressively, this object becomes overloaded with limestone, becoming an almost baroque object, until it becomes so saturated that it no longer has any reason for being. At that point we separate from it and look for something else. Hence a notion of history as a non-linear, but discontinuous, asymmetric, almost sinusoidal type. I think something similar is happening now in the world of contemporary guitar music, especially in academia.

On the one hand, the most extreme and disruptive forms of the twentieth century of which Boulez himself was a leading exponent seem to have exhausted their creative energies, also due to a radical political and social change. At the same time, perhaps thanks to the recent commemorations of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, I see the return of neoclassical forms, and I have no interest about them. Here it is. I believe that Daniel Lippel’s double CD goes in a different direction, perhaps not surprisingly it comes from a country like the United States where certain energies, including entrepreneurial ones, have not run out and where a certain faith in innovation has been maintained.

“Mirrored Spaces” is an album of innovative forms and, above all, it expresses a tension towards something else, towards different perspectives. In addition, it’s a double cd. It’s a lesson to be learned."
- Andrea Aguzzi, NeuGuitars, 3.23.2020

"Daniel Lippel, whom I would guess is in his 40s, commenced his formal education at Oberlin and at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and earned his D.M.A. in 2006 in the studio of David Starobin at the Manhattan School of Music. His dissertation topic was on guitar works by Mario Davidovsky, and throughout his career he has been most involved with new music for guitar, both in solo and chamber music contexts. His extensive discography dates back to 2004 (Resonance, New Focus Recordings), and he is very much in demand as a performer and also a teacher.

On this new release, Lippel highlights the collaborative relationship that he has enjoyed with other composers. In 2008, he worked with Orianna Webb and Ryan Streber, among others, to assemble a program he called “Experiments in Co-Composition,” and the works they created are the basis of this new release. At that same concert, he also performed a work of his own, Scaffold, and that live performance brings the present release to a satisfying end. (I think it is one of the strongest works on this program.) Everything else appears to have been recorded under studio conditions, mostly in 2018 and 2019, although two of the recordings (the title work and Descent) are about a decade old.

Overall, the program explores mirrors as a metaphor—in Lippel’s words, “with respect to the acoustic properties of the guitar, its electronic doppelgangers, structure, programmatic, and historical relationships, and treatment of material.” At several different points in this program, Lippel uses electric guitars (sometimes more than one at a time), amplifiers, non-conventional tuning, microtonality, and “the aesthetics of electro-acoustic music.” For example, in Ryan Streber’s Descent, an electric guitar is tuned like a cello, with the two additional strings tuned to B and E. The piece starts with a capo on the frets, which raises the pitch of all six strings, but later the capo is removed, lowering the pitch, and “a slow process of revealing progressively lower pitches eventually leads the work down in register to the detuned lowest string.” Lippel also writes, “Select moments in this work were written collaboratively; Ryan provided a skeleton for where a passage was coming from and where it needed to go, and I improvised around these restraints and presented a few options to him.” (It should be mentioned that composers do not necessarily learn in music schools specifically how to write for the guitar, and are often at least partly dependent on guitarists to instruct them in what is possible and not possible.)

I took particular interest in Ethan Wickman’s Joie Divisions. It is based on an earlier work (Joie) whose themes are ornamented and extended using the 16th- and 17th-century technique of division. It also is based on Disorder, an iconic song by the British post-punk band Joy Division, which is another form of mirroring, I suppose.

The packaging includes nine brief aphorisms by Francis Bacon, Elias Canetti, and others. These aphorisms have been wordlessly set, if you will, to music by composer Kyle Bartlett. Each Aphorism is one or two minutes long, and the nine of them have been interspersed amongst the longer works on this program as scene-changing interludes.

Despite its variety, this program makes for challenging listening. For me, it was more intellectually involving—and there is much to admire here from that perspective—than emotionally engaging, but your experience might be different than mine. Lippel, like Starobin, is one of those guitarists who views the guitar as an instrument no less capable of advancing musical frontiers than any other instrument, and his strong musicianship supports that view. Given the program’s length, more casual listeners might be intimidated, but fear not: Lippel has uploaded tracks from this release onto YouTube, so one can explore its contents with minimal risk, and make a decision about just how deep to dive. -- Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare, 5/2020

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