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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Scott L. Miller, Ghost Layers, TAK Plays Miller

According to my records, this is the fourth review article I have written on the music of Scott L. Miller (see the Gapplegate Music Review, 2015, and this blog, 2017 and 2018). His music lays out well to my ears. So now I am back with a new one to talk about, Ghost Layers, TAK Plays Miller (New Focus Recordings FCR253).

First a bit on the TAK Ensemble, who distinguish themselves markedly on this chamber program. It is ordinarily a quintet. For this program the four founding members hold sway--Laura Cocks (flute), Marina Kifferstein (violin), Charlotte Mundy (voice) and Ellery Trafford (percussion), augmented at various points in the program by Meghan Burke on cello, Tristan McKay on piano, and Joshua Rubin on clarinet. Collectively they tackle this advanced and difficult-to-play music with ease, with dash and even a heroically dynamic demeanor. TAK happily specialize in the Contemporary of yesterday and today through commissions, collaborations and dedicated New Music concertizing. A listen or two will no doubt convince you that they are near-ideal proponents of the music at hand, stars in today's Modern firmament.

So what, then, of that music? There are some five Miller chamber compositions featured, four of which combine instruments with electronic sound. The works exhibit Scott Miller's "eco-systemic" approach, where the music takes on something analogous to the function of ecosystems. This has to do with found environmental sounds, their analysis and then the establishment of paradigms within the musical structure of a given work.

So for example the opening work "Accretion" (2015) for flute, violin, clarinet/bass clarinet, cello, percussion and electronic sound has its initial basis in the composer's field recordings of waterfalls and ice floes, both subjected to spectral analysis which then provides data that figures in the instrumental and electronic components of the composition.

In the end what matters is that each work feels as a kind of natural organic entity where timbral choices and the interlaying of sounds have a feeling of inevitability without providing the listener with an obvious expected result acoustically or syntactically. Everything has an element of surprise yet gives the satisfaction of rich textural presence.

I will not try to run down each piece individually because the deep complexities and emergent form seem at this juncture better heard than subject to more words. The instrumental-electronic interfaces have a remarkable quality born out of the frisson of an exceptional collective grasp on the part of performers, electronic sounds that have a built-in logic and poetics in their interactive presence with acoustic instrumental sounds, and a totality that convinces, comes across as genuinely new, and makes for increasingly absorbing hearing the more one repeats the program.

All praise is due Scott Miller and TAK and company. This is a chamber program anyone with an interest in the latest Modernities should not miss. Outstanding music.

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