Tuesday 7 March 2023

A journey through sound: 'looking up | looking out' from a cellar full of noise - a trumpet, a tuba & live electronics create a bit of magic

looking up | looking out - Alistair MacDonald, Diana Salazar, Oliver Iredale Searle, Timothy Cooper, Karlheinz Stocklooking up | looking out - Alistair MacDonald, Diana Salazar, Oliver Iredale Searle, Timothy Cooper, Karlheinz Stockhausen; a cellar full of noise; TNW Musichausen; a cellar full of noise; TNW Music
looking up | looking out - Alistair MacDonald, Diana Salazar, Oliver Iredale Searle, Timothy Cooper, Karlheinz Stockhausen; a cellar full of noise; TNW Music
Reviewed 6 March 2023

Contemporary music and contemporary improvisations on movements from Stockhausen's Tierkreis; never have trumpet, tuba and electronics sounded so imaginative and so magical

looking up | looking out is a disc from contemporary music group a cellar full of noise on TNW Music, Centred on Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Tierkreis, the disc mixed recently composed pieces by Alistair MacDonald, Diana Salazar, Oliver Iredale Searle and Timothy Cooper with improvisations on Stockhausen’s Tierkreis.

TNW Music is the label for The Night With..., a charity based in Glasgow presenting salon-style concerts of interesting music in intimate, informal venues across Scotland and further afield. Run by composer Matthew Whiteside, it provides development and commissioning opportunities for young and emerging composers.

a cellar full of noise was brought together by Matthew Whiteside for the 2017 The Night With… season, though the performers had been friends since studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS). The ensemble is made up of Tom Poulson (trumpet), Danielle Price (tuba), and Timothy Cooper (composer & live electronics).

Tierkreis (Zodiac) is a 1974-75 composition by Stockhausen consisting of twelve melodies, each representing one sign of the zodiac. Stockhausen provided instructions for ways to interpret the melodies. There should be at least three versions, one of which is played as a strict reading of the original score at the original tempo. Another rule is that a Tierkreis performance begins and ends with the same melody. The second version is presented as a shorter, more condensed version.

The disc has versions of Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Leo, and the performers took the idea of ending with a second version of the opening by revisiting not just Gemini, the final two tracks of the album look back at Gemini and the composed works by Alistair MacDonald, Diana Salazar, Oliver Iredale Searle and Timothy Cooper.

We begin with the ensemble's version of Gemini from Stockhausen's Tierkreis, a fascinating piece where Price's tuba moves slowly over a texture of busy brass that resembles the buzzing of bees, though gradually the background retreats leaving the tuba alone. Asper Strata was commissioned from Diana Salazar for a cellar full of noise. The work focuses on Poulson's often virtuoso trumpet over sustained long notes produced by what? It is a fascinating nebulous piece, that creates a wonderfully eerie, 2001 A Space Odyssey type of feeling.

Virgo from Stockhausen's Tierkreis is a multi-layering of different rhythmic repetitions and repeated notes, with different layers at different speeds and alterations in timbre, getting more elaborate as the work progresses. Timothy Cooper's Breathing Space was written for Danielle Price's tuba and explores Cooper's own tricky relationship with brass playing. It features playing and breathing, seemingly mixing in found sounds to create something of a soundscape with the tuba emerging foghorn-like. Towards the end, I started to get impressions of the opening of Wagner's Das Rheingold.

Next comes Timothy Cooper's version of Sagittarius from Stockhausen's Tierkreis. This uses rhythmic fragments and plenty of space to create a not-quite conversation between trumpet and tuba, jazzy at times, hocket-like at others. Oliver Iredale Searle's Sequenza for solo trumpet was written for Tom Poulson, as part of the series of Glasgow Sequenzas by staff and student composers at the RCS for the PLUG festival in 2009. It is certainly a virtuoso trumpet part, and for much of the piece, Poulson is almost in dialogue with himself, sometimes creating the feel of two players. Though, towards the end I found the work becoming a little too insistent.

Next is the ensemble's version of Leo from Stockhausen's Tierkreis, where we have a duet for trumpet and tuba in an echo chamber so that short notes echo significantly and the sounds are mixed in with a feeling of background static. Alistair MacDonald's Scatter was another solo piece that felt like a duet. MacDonald added extra buttons to the tuba (I have no idea how that worked and the booklet does not explain) the result has the feel of a fast, jazzy duet that gradually unwinds.

Timothy Cooper's Looking back mixes rhythmic pulses with electronic atmospheres to striking effect, the opening concentrated material seeming to expand. The disc then returns to Stockhausen with Gemini Cadenza.

This is a terrific disc, full of sounds and textures. I listened to it cold at first, and frankly had no idea what I was listening to, such was the magic the three performers create. Stockhausen's Tierkreis is not so much a composition as a tool kit, and here the three performers have used it to create a journey through sound.

Gemini | Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) arr. a cellar full of noise
Asper Strata | Diana Salazar
Virgo | Karlheinz Stockhausen arr. a cellar full of noise
Breathing Space | Timothy Cooper
Sagittarius | Karlheinz Stockhausen arr. Timothy Cooper
Sequenza for Solo Trumpet | Oliver Iredale Searle
Leo | Karlheinz Stockhausen arr. a cellar full of noise
Scatter | Alistair MacDonald
looking back | Timothy Cooper
Gemini Cadenza | Karlheinz Stockhausen arr. a cellar full of noise
a cellar full of noise (Tom Poulson - trumpet, Danielle Price - tuba, Timothy Cooper - electronics)
Recorded Ledger Room, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland June 2021
TNW Music TNW-09 1 CD [55:57]

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