To set the scene: Donald Trump had pulled off his electoral upset just three days prior to Yarn/Wire’s show at Chicago’s new-music apothecary, Constellation. The audience was a coin toss of composers and performers, and faces were noticeably pallid. What ensued, and what is captured on Currents Vol. 4 at a similar staging in Red Hook, Brooklyn, was an immersive trek inward. This was group meditation… and we levitated.
Percussionists Ian Antonio and Russell Greenberg and keyboardists Laura Barger and Ning Yu are releasing a Currents album each year to give voice to experimental projects that involve the theatrical and the exploratory. The delicacy with which Yarn/Wire coaxes their machinery could shave a square of gold leaf into two, as is made clear with Catherine Lamb’s stunner Curvo Totalitas, which launches the album. In it, a gentle wash of sheet steel instantly outlines an expansive aura around the listener before the tight vibrato of the synths pricks up the hairs on the neck. Minutes lose their temporal meaning as overtones are tempted from the tam tam, and Lamb eases in and out of vast palettes of white noise. It is the kind of piece that offers either total escapism or undiluted self-examination, and is executed by Yarn/Wire here with utter finesse.
One of the most compelling aspects of Currents Vol. 4 is the live-ness of the recording–downshifting semis and all. Missing from the recording, though, is a true sense of the spatial relationships of the instruments, especially in Alvin Lucier’s Oases, which like all the tracks involved was commissioned by the ensemble. Here, three players with open-snared drums traverse a self-imposed labyrinth, circling the fourth who strikes various points along a pitched metal pipe. Vibrations from the pipe begin to sizzle the snares, their sympathetic response depending upon the angle at which they are held toward (or away from) the center. Although still a compelling listen on the headphones, it can’t compete with the live experience of witnessing the true potency of sound.
Also sculpting sound in a physical way is Anthony Vine’s Distance / Absence, a work which by comparison to its album-mates, cuts its way in to the listener’s consciousness like a sharp blade. Most striking is Vine’s mind-melding of the two pianists–unison attacks offering a high wire across which the percussion teeters and groans. For any listener grappling with recent events, or anything for that matter, it and its album provide a stirring accompaniment.
- Doyle Armbrust