Consortium5, Recorder Quintet
Kathryn Corrigan, Inga Maria Klauke, Oonagh Lee, Gail Macleod, Roselyn Maynard, recorders
I’ll admit my initially skeptical reaction to receiving English recorder quintet Consortium5’s album Tangled Pipes was parochial. After all, is there a more stigmatized instrument in the American musical conscience than the recorder? Well before I listened to the CD, I was fearful of its tracks recalling horrifying memories of the ignorant squeaks that filled my elementary school music class. However, I was quickly rebuffed by Consortium5’s otherworldly sound. Listening to Tangled Pipes was one of the most pleasantly surprising audience experiences I’ve had in a long time. Not only did the new recorder quintet music on Tangled Pipes reveal an uncharted world of timbre wavering between acoustic and electronic sounds, but the inclusion of hip and well produced track remixes also made the album a unique musical object I’m happy to own.
It is really hard for me to describe the different sounds you’ll encounter when you listen to Tangled Pipes. True, the instruments are all recorders, just like you would hear on an authentically performed concert of baroque or renaissance music; however, Consortium5 uses them in ways I could have never imagined. Many of the tracks, such as Darren Bloom’s Consorts and Richard Lannoy’s Tangled Pipes use percussive sounds akin to tongue rams and concise over-blowing on a flute. Mr. Bloom’s piece also uses remarkable glissandi and double-tongued licks that transport these ostensibly humble instruments to a vibrant and relevant sound world. Along the same lines, Brian Inglis uses overblowing, multiphonics, key clicks and flutter-tonguing to create contrasting ritornellos against the traditional counterpoint and folksy chorale around which his work, Burmese Pictures, rotates.
The four remaining pieces I have to discuss seem less like they hoped to show off the well kept secret of the recorder’s flexibility in terms of extended techniques and timbre. Rather, they are artfully crafted musical works enlivened by their unique instrumentation. Kathryn Butler’s Chanterelle, Brooks Frederickson’s ironically titled Quintet for Fifteen Recorders and Kim Ashton’s Dots harkened to the sound mass trends of the late 1960s and 1970s. Yet, the distinctive and beautiful freshness of Consortium5’s sound prevented these three compositions from sounding cliché, which may have happened had they been written for strings or another more commonplace ensemble. The final original work of the album – Luke Styles’ Three Stages – was a perfect capstone to the commissioned music featured on Tangled Pipes. Elegantly through-composed, Three Stages unwittingly refers to all the sounds and textures of the preceding tracks in a long-form exploration of contrasting musical images.
I’ve rushed through the original compositions featured on the album because they comprise only half of the album’s contents. The final ten tracks of Tangled Pipes are remixes drawn from the master recordings of the six compositions that open the CD. Spanning the realm of electronic music from Aphex Twin to musique concrète, these works further amplified the one-of-a-kind nature of the music included on this CD. Furthermore, I found these remixes a brilliant move on the part of Consortium5 for two reasons: they more deeply exploited the sonic similarities between recorders’ pure timbre and synthesized sounds and also adds value to seeking out Tangled Pipes individually, instead of only interacting with Consortium5 in their concerts. A critical difference between art music and commercial music is that the latter makes the recording its ultimate product and uses recording techniques to make the aural experience of an album impossible to reproduce in at a live show. Concert music, of course, is more attentive to hearing performances firsthand, so – more often than not – a CD of art music will play like a solo recital or orchestral concert. Tangled Pipes does both and makes an innovative contribution to the world of concert music recordings.
Essentially, Consortium5’s performances on Tangled Pipes provide a listening experience than can satisfy any listener from dedicated supporters of modernism to lovers of house music and other electronic genres. From the cloudlike harmonies on the opening track – Kathryn Butler’s Chantarelle – to the phaux drum-and-bass of Radioproof’s Elemental Remix from the album’s home stretch, Tangled Pipes impressively bridges vastly diverse musical worlds – early music, modernism and electronica, among others – without breaking a sweat. Consortium5 has earned all the praise critics can muster by reinventing consort music, but Tangled Pipes contributes to more than the niche of contemporary recorder performance. The stylistic variety and innovative production techniques featured on Tangled Pipes compellingly suggest a new frontier for chamber ensembles and the world of art music CDs.