That hits me as I listen to the Del Sol Quartet performing A Dust in Time (Passacaglia for Strings) by Huang Ruo (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0158). This is a full-length work divided into 13 sections, each of which flows to the next with a supercharged lyrical set of quietly reminiscent and sad but transcendent slow suspensions and unfoldings .Altogether the work makes for a beautiful, never ending mood that avoids the sort of rote repetition of orthodox Minimalism, but lingers on something that builds on a crawlingly slow ostinato, puts us onto very widely spanning in ways perhaps more vaguely familiar more as chant structured than overtly hypnotic recalls. In time the music moves in melodic motion beyond the already stated and follows a wide arc in a kind of hour-long quasi a-b-a axis..
In this way Ruo creates a never-ending largo that the composer builds forward with, never exactly moving ahead in time nor exactly static. And as we listen we feel the opening up of a musical space.
Ruo explains what led to this haunting work: "Most of us have experienced moments during this global crisis where time and space seemed to be slowed or frozen. This special piece is created for the people affected by the pandemic, giving them a piece of music to reflect, to express, to mourn, to bury, to heal, to find internal peace, strength and hope," The hour long work Ruo suggests might be expereinces as a Tibetan Sand Mandala, created slowly from a center, expanding outward to a "colored fullness, and then to be subtracted from it inwards back to the central essence point" in a life cycle-like movement from nothing to a fullness and then back to an emptiness. The journey from a kind of dust to a life affirming expression and then back to the nothingness again has the aim of creating an "internal peace laying in the heart."
All that makes sense as the Del Sol Quartet give us this contemporary passacaglia of labyrinthian growth and returning stasis. The CD comes with a cosmic coloring book meant to help the listener obtain a sort of aural and visual completeness. As the unfolding process takes place.
As the liners tell us, Ruo draws upon a wide variety of influences, from Chinese ancient folk music to avant experimental noise, processual sound, rock and various classical genre traditions, then too installation art, all meant to combine into a cross-referenced and special whole.
As one listens one gradually realizes that everything Ruo intended comes off well, thanks to his an overarching conceptual constancy and the well healed reading by the Del Sol Quartet.
It no doubt must find each listener in a receptive earnestness of openness for it to have its way. It is a most welcome peace one can gain by intended focus. It refuses to copy so much as it re-creates the aural world need to transcend the pandemic. And it does.`
This is as insistent to be itself as anything around these days. And you end up appreciating it a lot of you are like me. Bravo Del Sol. Bravo Huang Ruo!