International Contemporary Ensemble – Coalescence Cycle: Rand Steiger, Vol. 1: Music for Soloists and Electronics

randsteigerThis album doesn’t begin as much as it takes off like a spaceship headed to the planet Arga-fucking-buthon. Alien landscapes, treacherous corners, and shifting dissonances come served in large heaping spoonfuls on this motherfucker. Is this contemporary classical music? You better fucking believe it is. But if you’ve ventured through the lands of Tobin, Aphex, George Crumb, or Zorn, you’ll be laid back in a lawn chair soaking in the rays of this soundscape like some bronzed sailing bodybuilding from the ’80s. This music sits in that super-sweet spot between classical avant-garde and out-there electronica. Four out of five of these tracks are made up of a single classical player throwing down heavy licks while Steiger fucks it up all computer styles. At one moment, you’ll be chilling in the strange ambiance put out of a single instrument, thinking you’ve got a hold of the motherfucker, when the entire key melts down like everything’s now in slow motion. Depending on who you are, you’ll either be curious and confused as this occurs, or you’ll be biting your bottom lip in pure dissonant ecstasy as the music takes you through the immeasurable distance between your ears.

The first track “Cyclone” is composed of a clarinet and live electronics. That’s it. But that doesn’t mean this shit’s sparse. It starts off with a neat run until delay and reverb effects take it through a loop like a vindictive whirly-whirl. From then on, you’re in another universe so, please, mind your hats goan in. No need to worry about whether these players are up to snuff. You’re in safe fucking hands. Joshua Rubin, the clarinetist on this track, was also the co-Artistic Director of the International Contemporary Ensemble (or ICE [no, it’s got nothing to do with immigration]) from 2014 to 2018. So he knows what the fuck is up. The piece was inspired by two tornadoes that hit up Brooklyn and is also named after a Coney Island roller coaster. The cyclical theme is well embedded into the piece. It swirls and twists like a drunken ballet dancer on a pair of motorized rollerskates.

The second track, “Beacon”, takes on the talents of ICE founder and flutist Claire Chase. What does a beacon do? Well, it fucking beacons. Again, the live instrumentals are thrown through effects that further the beckoning theme. “Morning Fog” is performed by another ICE founder, Kivie Cahn-Lipman, and was written after Steiger went through an personal loss. The warm and sparse cello slowly shifts into multiple airy layers until the piece turns into a fucked up nightmare. Just like with real loss, it tends to be the warm beautiful bits that fuck you in the ass. The next track, “Light on Water”, is the only piece on this motherfucker that breaks the one instrument theme. On this, you’ve got the flute, the piano, and that trusty bucket of electronics. Jacob Greenberg joins Claire to create a musical interpretation on reflection. Starting to see what the fuck is up? Each song is rooted onto a single theme. The instrumental starts the launch. The electronics blasts it the fuck off.

In the last track, as Rebakah Heller’s bassoon reminds me of what it would be like if Kubrick’s 2001 was a comedy, I can’t help think about the relationship between electronic and classical tunes. Enter either field and you’ll eventually find yourself picking flowers in the other. A deep dive into Frahm, Eno, GAS, or Venetian Snares and you’ll find yourself in the caves of Stockhausen, Boulez, Reich, and Xanakis. They’re part of the same fucking body. Steiger’s got the knowledge, chops, and guts to venture into this strange world between the two and stake a claim. Because when you seek truth in music, beyond all else, the limitations of a single genre have rarely got enough fuel to get you there. Is this music strange? Oh fuck ya it is, because it has to be. In one of Douglas Adams’s fucking fantastic of often emblematic books, there’s a character put into solitary confinement after taking too much of a truth-drug. Because of this, he tells the truth in its absolute and final form. Anyone that hears it goes insane. I’m not saying that this music will make you go insane, but if it wasn’t just a bit loopy it wouldn’t be doing it’s fucking job.


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