Catherine Lamb – Matter/Moving

Catherine Lamb - Matter/Moving

Another release to find its way onto the site with much delay, Catherine Lamb‘s Matter/Moving examines territory being confronted most notably these days by just a handful of labels, among them Edition Wandelwesier and the release’s own imprint, Winds Measure Recordings. While Manfred Werder’s 2005¹ reproduced unadulterated field recordings of the same site once on each day of an entire month, this work encompasses four recordings of a single composition in the same location across two days, featuring Tucker Dulin on trombone, Bryan Eubanks on filtered formant oscillators and Andrew Lafkas on double bass.

Lamb’s composition itself is straightforward and paced in lento, with significant rests. Too languorous to be tense, a certain unease is nonetheless imparted through the use of microtonals, often in dissonance between instruments. That said, many of the sections resolve themselves into mild and pleasing harmonics, or end with just an oscillator playing for the last bar, resulting in an overall impression of the work that is being consistently unsettled and reformed across its span.

The decision to release the composition in four individual recordings seems worthy of investigation in its own right. Though I have little experience with classical music performance (my piano playing is a derivative of typing’s notorious ‘hunt-and-peck’ school), I imagine that a part of this work’s success is that it engenders the perspectives of both the audience and the performer. The latter, both within and between performances of a composition, is faced with the challenge of reconciling its theoretically perfect notation with its fallible rendition. The audience, with limited exposure, usually knows the composition only through a single performance, be it live or on an audio recording. Matter/Moving bridges that gap by presenting something of an ideal type (in Weber’s sense), whereby the various performative permutations are not only allowed, but encouraged to coexist with one another. The composition is not muddied by these variants, but instead reinforced through a process of accretion, each playback lending weight to the broad stroke of the movement if not to its constituent parts.

Image courtesy of Guide Me Little Tape

Audio artifacts from the in situ recording (not to mention the cassette tape itself) are no longer interruptions or distractions, but contribute as much to the work stylistically as the myriad hesitations, beat-shifts and (in-)advertant alterations in amplitude delivered across each of Matter/Moving‘s iterations by the performers themselves. The rehearsal of that piece in that location at that time is as much a part of the notation as the notes and their rhythm; in this composition’s particular case, notes both annotated and delivered in relative terms, as some of the instructions to the performers prescribe a reaction to environmental stimuli (the score is available here). Furthermore, the bass in particular is played at a sufficiently low amplitude as to allow the inadvertent introduction of overtones, resulting in another formal means of making each performance unique in its execution. As a classical or jazz music aficionado may seek out multiple recordings, interpretations and performers of a single standard, Catherine Lamb here provides the listener with the ability to easily and directly map and contrast the constellation of referents to which one’s ears are tuned.

Much is made of the environmental, cultural and auditory context within which contemporary music is consumed, but few recordings bring the discussion into such elegant and stark terms as this set of recordings. Recommended and available directly from Winds Measure Recordings.

An audio sample can be found here, and a longer excerpt on Soundscape episode Acoustic Migration.

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