Wednesday 12 May 2021

Together, apart: The House of Bedlam's Enclosure on NMC explores how musicians make music when not physically able to be together

Enclosure - Larry Goves, Claudia Sessa, Matthew Sergeant, Sarah Hennies, Amber Priestly; The House of Bedlam; NMC

- Larry Goves, Claudia Sessa, Matthew Sergeant, Sarah Hennies, Amber Priestly; The House of Bedlam; NMC

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 12 May 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Experimental music group The House of Bedlam ask what it means to perform together with an album recorded entirely by the individual players at home

Enclosure from The House of Bedlam on NMC records examines what happens when you try and make music together when you are not together. The disc features music by Larry Goves, Claudia Sessa, Matthew Sergeant, Sarah Hennies, and Amber Priestly performed by members of the ensemble The House of Bedlam (Larry Goves, director/electronics, Kathryn Williams, flutes, Carl Raven saxophones/clarinets, Tom McKinney guitars, Stephanie Tress cello).

In his programme note Larry Goves explains how his interest in not quite collaborative composition started before 2020, but last year it came to the fore when musicians wanted to make music together but were not able to be physically together. The recordings on the disc were all made during lockdown (and around half the pieces were created at the same time), with players performing at home and sending the results to Goves for mixing and editing. He describes the collection as including "music played in obsessive unison, played entirely independently, composed after the sounds were recorded, and in one case downplaying the importance of the instrumentalist entirely".

We open with Goves' Distant Airports which sets melodic fragments from flute, classical guitar and cello against a wash of electronic sounds. Originally written in 2011, the piece was made as an epilogue to a concert for Aldeburgh Young Musicians, designed to bring two underused student instrumentalists and the other member of staff musically and literally together. The result, as revised here, is haunting and rather evocative.

Next comes Goves' version of Occhi io vissi di voi by the singer and nun Claudia Sessa (c.1570 – c.1619), where Carl Raven's sax plays the melody at different speeds with different ornamentations, all overlaid to create something seductively haunting yet not without complexity.

Goves' intriguingly titled Music inspired by the opening of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ ‘Suburban relapse’ played with little regard for coordination or tuning, features the ensemble in a piece loosely inspired by the Siouxsie and the Banshees’ piece and this is notable for the jaggy guitar chords and scratchy cello over what can only be described as a stride bass. Textural rather than melodic, it is an intense piece which gradually unravels.

Goves' Borneo Rivers is based on a graphic score, and the result has a freedom that some of the other pieces, which use what Goves refers to as 'obsessive unison', do not. It is almost an evocative filmscape with delicate, spiky textures over an electronic wash.

Matthew Sergeant's A bowed string instrument is played with a found branch, twig, or similar…, from his series Matters of Matter features Goves playing a violin with branches, creating a scratty sound where the textures become more important than the notes.

With Goves' Music for melody instruments, objects, and electronic sounds we return to the 'obsessive unison' as the ensemble members play the same melody in different ways and at different speeds over electronic wash. It was originally written in 2018 especially for the House of Bedlam’s appearance in the BBC’s Open Ear series and is a piece for any instruments and objects, written. It is a sort of non-minimalistic Minimalism in that the repetitions glory in their differences.

American composer Sarah Hennies' Growing Back feels like an electronic soundscape, but is a collage of sounds from the whole ensemble, with no electronics though Goves plays piano, electric guitar and found objects. Goves commissioned Hennies’ Growing Block as part of his one-year stewardship of the annual CoMA Open Score commissions, having programmed her work at the Royal Northern College of Music and for the House of Bedlam. The performance instructions are more like invitations to make decisions, and invitations to explore listening in a particular space at a particular time via 30-second long blocks of sounds, with choices made by the performers guided by the composer, providing fourteen windows into ‘blocks’ of sound. The result is a highly evocative soundscape, almost filmic in its visual intensity and the sounds really capture both the sound and the textures of different instruments playing, rather than just pitches.

Next we return to Claudia Sessa with, this time, a version for alto flute, alto saxophone and cello. This is more harmonic in that much of the 'accompanying' music is the melody slowed down so much that it does not register. This is old music almost made modern, a dialogue with the past, haunting, evocative and moving.

Amber Priestley's  With wholesome hunger plenty is a version of a piece she wrote for the ensemble in 2018, Abroad to beg your bacon. The work offers a graphic, text, and notated score that serves as a sequence of invitations and provocations, inviting the performers to collectively choose (in advance) their own sounds and approaches to a renaissance melody played in unison or slightly offset, to spontaneously and theatrically decide to navigate graphically notated solos, to invite others to join in, or to choose to interrupt, and ultimately to race to the end. As such, it chimes in with the themes of this disc and it 'charts the performers’ entangled interactions from independence to working collectively through support and (friendly) competitivity.'

It starts in a strikingly perky way, and then moves between textures and emotions, seemingly each instrumental line independent and not related, but gradually the performers coordinate and the ensemble coalesces out of five individuals.

Finally we return to Goves with Nehemiah 2, which uses a highly distorted sequence from Blues legend Nehemiah Curtis ‘Skip’ James, but the result is a long way from the original and Goves has created a rather magical five minutes with a series of carefully placed, thoughtful chords which seem to exist in a wash of sound.

This album is the result of an enormous amount of hard work; I imagine that the performers got heartily sick of click tracks whilst Goves' attention to detail in mixing and editing the music must have been obsessive. But that doesn't come over, the disc doesn't feel dutiful, instead there is a sense of the sheer joy of exploring ways of performing and ways of creating new sounds and textures together.

Larry Goves - Distant Airports
Claudia Sessa (arr. Larry Goves) - Occhi io vissi di voi #1
Larry Goves - Music inspired by Siouxsie and the Banshees’ ‘Suburban relapse’ played with little regard for coordination or tuning
Larry Goves - Borneo rivers
Matthew Sergeant - Matters of Matter #4: A bowed string instrument is played with a found branch, twig, or similar...
Larry Goves - Music for melody instruments, objects, and electronic sounds
Sarah Hennies - Growing Block
Claudia Sessa (arr. Larry Goves) - Occhi io vissi di voi #2
Amber Priestley - With wholesome hunger plenty
Larry Goves - Nehemiah 2
The House of Bedlam
All tracks recorded by the performers at home
NMC D269 1CD [52.10]

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