An incredible set of vocal performances which combine great precision with the fragility and realism of genuine human voices. As choral music moves more and more towards prizing absolute, glacial, instrumental perfection, this is a reminder of what the real human voice can do, in a challenging piece which pushes their stamina to the limit, and they rise to the challenge brilliantly. Wonderful stuff.
Favorite track: What we began.
At last! I loved the three tracks on Render, and then realizing there were three more songs out there was like "Argh! Must Hear!" The three new (to me) tracks feature the same types of layers and textures that are at the same time cozy, dark, sublime, and occasionally full of warning. Still need to listen more, as this is the sort of music best understood after it seeps into your bones.
Favorite track: Through the night wave.
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“It's like Roomful of Teeth on different sides of the planet,” describes artistic director Brad Wells regarding the simultaneous release of a propulsively rhythmic The Ascendant composed by Wally Gunn alongside the immense resonance of Michael Harrison’s Just Constellations.
"Wally is an example of a composer who is like a stream that smooths stones,” describes Wells of the hyper-deliberate sounds in The Ascendant. “Nothing feels halfway developed with Wally. It's all been so deeply considered."
Listeners and critics will recognize three of the six songs in The Ascendant from Roomful’s release Render—picked as a top album of 2015 by WNYC’s New Sounds’ host John Schaefer. This marks the first opportunity to hear the work as a whole. The music, which features lyrics from poems written by Maria Zajkowski, seems deceptively uncomplicated on the surface.
"The way he reduces his ideas down to their essences makes them extremely satisfying,” explains Wells. “He develops great grooves that feel earthy and physical,” describes Wells. “His music also feels great in the voice. The lines are beautiful to sing."
When Gunn began the initial process of writing The Ascendant he admits he was in a rut. He looked toward what music really drew him in for guidance. The music, it turns out, was highly emotive music, music that made him feel deeply. As he began sketching a few ideas really got his attention.
“One was exploring how voices can create rhythm and momentum by moving in counterpoint, in hockets, echoes, canons, rounds, and ostinati,” he says. “When I hear voices moving in counterpoint like this—in all different cultures, eras, and genres, but especially in the Renaissance and Baroque era of Western music—it always thrills me.”
It’s a song cycle he began composing in 2012 that remains incredibly special to Gunn, not only for the deeply collaborative process of working with both Roomful of Teeth and the poet Maria Zajkowski, but also for a compositional discovery he made for himself.
"I stumbled upon something that feels like an authentic compositional voice, a combination of polyphonic patterns and processes, blended with the angularity and clarity of rock music harmonies and forms,” he says. “Something about this combination felt like the beginning of a new chapter for me.”