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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Stephen Whittington, Music for Airport Furniture

The title of Music for Airport Furniture (Cold Blue 0038), Stephen Whittington's 20-plus minute EP CD single and the work of that name which the CD presents, is a kind of succinct, clever way of the composer to show his stripes, to allude to both Eno's "Music for Airports" and Erik Satie's "Furniture Music," which of course are pioneering works in the minimalist-ambient zone.

Whittington's work for strings, played well in this recording by the Zephyr Quartet, owes something to those root works, but in many ways goes in its own direction.

It is a long sustained meditation on a pivoting point of a series of alternating lush, close harmonic chordal blocks for the four strings, almost as if some portions of the adagio movement of a late romantic/impressionist string quartet were lingering in the mind, in a hypnagogic or dream state, stitched together imaginatively and stretched to endless sustains, melded together by the selective memory of them, like the afterimage of a bright light in the aftermath of its presence. Like that afterimage it is by no means static. There is recurrence but also development within the slow sequential unfolding.

That is what you get on first impression. Repeated listens open up the long structures underpinning the mesmerizing alternations. Parts remind me of Hovhannes's string writing, minus the Armenian roots, but that mostly has to do with the pizzicato punctuations and long sustains common to this work and a few of Alan H's.

The music is a kind of lament, gorgeous, reflecting, very gradually revealing itself in a state of profound quiescence. It has great beauty and expressiveness. It sounds much the better after you've heard it a few times and opened up to the sonic universe it inhabits.

There's nothing quite comparable to it. It succeeds in slow movement advanced tonal quasi-minimalist territory much more readily than some more well known composers' attempts have. And it does it in a way that delights and moves the musical emotional-cognitive listening apparatus--or mine anyway. Yours too, I would suspect.


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