“Since its founding in 2001, the International Contemporary Ensemble has been dedicated to reshaping the way music is created and experienced. With a modular makeup of 35 leading instrumentalists, performing in forces ranging from solos to large ensembles, ICE advances the music of our time by developing innovative new works and new strategies for audience engagement. ICE redefines concert music as it brings together new work and new listeners. ICE is a new model for a new century: a contemporary, innovative, modular, artist-driven organization that transforms new ideas into new music, and new music into new ideas. By dissolving the lines between the artist and the producer, ICE empowers the artists of its generation to create groundbreaking new work.”–ICE
Practicing what they preach in their manifesto above, the composers of these pieces, Phyllis Diller, I mean Chen and Nathan Davis, are actually members of the International Contemporary Ensemble, a group whose name, which measures in at a whopping 13 syllables, almost qualifies as a whole sentence, if not a short story. Yeah, it’s pretty much way too long for its own good. It’s so painfully long, I’ll bet no human has ever uttered it out loud because it would require too much energy; you would have to eat three meals during the course of saying it. Let’s give it a try. Come on, repeat after me: “International Contemporary Ensemble.” Whew! I got tired just typing it right then. The name also sounds generic, kind of like if I started a rock group and named it Rock Group. Since the ensemble itself is modular, maybe the name could be, too. Perhaps the name, like some of this music, could even change slowly and shrink over time.
Names, short stories and novels aside, the music on On The Nature of Thingness, which draws heavily on the work of John Cage, is really quite good. The whole shebang gets underway with the appropriately named “Ghostlight,” a very atmospheric piece for prepared piano in which light, lyrical tinkles are supported by viewers like you, I mean supported by a bed of wood block and gamelan-like percussive knocks. “Hush” is a short, charming, prickly piece for piano, toy piano and music box and what sounds like a tin can getting shot by a BB gun. Featuring clarinet, toy glockenspiel, toy piano, tuning forks and violin, “Chimers” displays an intense skittering minimalism that mellows out just as it gets stabbed by a bunch of trebly whacks.
“On Speaking a Hunrded Names” is a bodacious bit for solo bassoon in which the player emits all kinds of intense, dizzy keening and wailing with delay, recalling Terry Riley jamming with a foghorn as seabirds circle overhead–ending with a nice, resonant drone. Also for a solo instrument, this time the flute, “Beneath a Trace of Vapor” features a forlorn main melody with a second one keening off in the distance as Sasquatch stomps through the snow. “Mobius” heads back to the music box with some quietly tapping and percolating electronics.
Finishing up the program is the title piece, which is spread out over four separate tracks. “Study of the Object” is dominated by a wailing female soprano that, true to form, will kill your eardrums if you don’t dive for the volume knob, while “Dada” is comprised of spoken word over a bed of jaw harps. “Vowels” presents some mellow singing over bass guitar and tinkling percussion, while “An Outside With an Inside In It” shuts down the disc with more mellow singing accompanied by a subtly throbbing bass. Nice. And while you’re listening to this whole mess, you can look at some crumbled up paper on the CD cover. On a side note, too bad ICE doesn’t own a time machine, because if they did, they could travel back to 1972 and play at the ICES (the International Carnival of Experimental Sound).
Text ©2016 Arcane Candy