The Noise Between Thoughts performed by the Kronos Quartet
Threads performed by the Paul Dresher Ensemble
Washed By Fire performed by the Kronos Quartet
Doing these reviews has been a interesting journey. I got a box packed full of discs a few weeks ago and started dutifully going through them. I sorted them into Must, Should, Won’t, and Can’t piles. In the bottom of the box was a nondescript disc in a simple paper sleeve. I didn’t think much of it and added it to my CD player with a batch of discs that were not terribly interesting (and therefore hardly worth mentioning). Who would have guessed that this nondescript disc, which turned out to be In Sound, would be my favorite disc so far this year?
Three works grace this CD and each one is engrossing and captivating although for wholly different reasons. The Noise Between Thoughts for string quartet, performed by the Kronos Quartet, sounds exactly like all the random bits that fly around and prevent one from thinking clearly. You can tell that thoughts are trying to emerge but they lie buried under scratch tones, aggressive gestures, and uncomfortable energy. As the quartet comes to a close, the thoughts are gaining strength and starting to come to the forefront. The piece is a wild ride, not for the faint of heart, but well worth it.
Threads is for sextet with an electronic accompaniment. The music is dark, haunting, sustained timbres that breed discomfort and forward momentum. The rich sounds contain entire worlds and the Paul Dresher ensemble is profoundly adept at putting these ambient textures in motion. This piece could be a lot of noise and in the hands of a lesser composer, these materials would be just noise. In Makan’s hands, however, everything has purpose and weight. There is an inexorable nature to this music.
The final piece returns to the string quartet medium and Washed By Fire quickly became my favorite work on the disc. Washed By Fire seems to have exorcized the demons plaguing the thoughts in the first track of the CD and all that remains are beautiful, serene, and spacious tones and gestures. Long tones fill up the first five minutes of the piece and they are as natural as breathing. After all the stressful timbres and energies of Threads, this is exactly what I wanted to hear. I just didn’t know it until I heard it. The single tones form into powerful melodies, tonal melodies at that (quite a surprise from the earlier works). Keeril Makan’s Washed By Fire is, to my ears, in the tradition of Shostakovich or Schnittke. The music can be, and is, meditative, mournful, dancing, and passionate.
The music on this disc is music with purpose. Every time Washed By Fire starts up, I just have to stop what I am doing and listen. In a world full of music that is disposable background nothingness, it is remarkable that Makan can craft music so strong that one must simply stop and pay attention to it. This is an amazing disc.