Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Lori Goldston & Judith Hamann's Alloys

One of my favorite musical pieces of all time is Arvo Part's Fratres. It's such an emotional and edgy piece, full of sadness yet so ethereal that it sounds like it was captured by some ancient, primitive recording device. Fratres can be performed with all types of ensembles--everything from a violin and piano duet to, and this is my favorite, a dozen cellos. That sound, of a gathering of cellos, is a wondrous thing, all full of odd textures and subtle shifts in melodies that may or may not have taken place in real time. Perhaps that's why I responded to Lori Goldston and Judith Hamann's new CD, Alloys, in such an immediate and positive way. We have just two cellos here, not a dozen, but the actual numbers are obscured, just like they are in Fratres, because so many different layers of sound emerge and intertwine.

Alloys is one of those mystery discs that came out of nowhere. While Goldston is a noted cellist--she's toured with Nirvana, for instance, and can be seen on that incredible MTV Unplugged performance--there are many untested variables here such as a new recording label, Marginal Frequency, which is aiming its recordings at both audiophiles and music lovers who embrace the avant-garde. (That's me.) Alan F. Jones, a sound engineer who is based in Tracyton, Washington, handles mixing, mastering, audio restoration and sound design for film projects, so there's plenty of attention to the sonic details deep within Alloys. Working under the aegis of Laminal Audio, Jones seems to be the impetus of this project--he's the one who originally contacted me to listen to this unusual and satisfying duet.

Alloys is, among many other things, a full dissection of the cello and how it interacts with its human counterparts. There's the sounds I usually discuss, the human cues that occur simply by standing next to a musical instrument and to resonate with it. Goldston and Hamann, who hails from Australia, are like most skilled players of string instruments in the way they manipulate the angle of the bow to produce a wider canon of sound--not unlike the embouchure of a trumpet player. That's why Fratres is so hypnotic and mystical. Sounds come from the stage and you wonder where they are coming from since that was no cello, or was it? In these two extended compositions, which are largely improvised despite their exacting structures, the two cellists dig deep into the wooden caverns of their instruments and extract strange sounds you might not have heard before. It's not noise, though--it's something deeper and more guttural. It's haunting.

The cello is one of my favorite musical instruments. It has a warm, lush and romantic sound most of the time but it can take you down dark alleyways and leave you there, wondering what's going to happen next. Alloys is more dependable than that--this is a raw, windswept landscape that isn't for the passive or fearful, but Goldston and Hamann are there, holding your hand, telling you to stick close. It's a trip worth taking, even if you keep looking back over your shoulder.

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