actuellecd

Heard In

Dave Madden, The Squid’s Ear, May 3, 2011

I often wonder how music will sound 500 years from now. Will the change be drastic — a stylistic upheaval — or just subtly different? I imagine someone 800 years ago speculated the same about the then-current awakening to polyphonic music (i.e. the motet). Isaiah Ceccarelli’s Bréviaire d’épuisements is that person’s answer.

At a squint, one can spot the shapes and forms of that era; there are several contiguous movements of different sizes and consistency, spiritual text in French (nothing you find in religious Canon, but a potential addendum to the Apocrypha), plainchant, occasional instrumental cantus firmus and organum. However, the modern spin by Ceccarelli and his sextet make this a truly unique adventure. The four solo sections of this thirteen-piece work is the first striking giveaway of where we are: bowed cymbal. Sometimes reverent, sometimes rude, Ceccarelli works a panoply of harmonics, tempo shifts (pulses via up / down strokes), buzzing, creaking with…well, you know how it sounds; it’s a daring yet somehow unifying pose against the rest of the aesthetic.

The rest of the album is realized by two voices (Émilie Laforest and Josée Lalonde), two bass clarinets (Lori Freedman and Philippe Lauzier) and Pierre-Yves Martel’s Viola da gamba, hinged on Ceccarelli’s compositions and on poems by Marie Deschênes. The pieces are intimate and recall John Cage and Joan La Barbara’s collaborations (i.e. Mirakus), the group conceiving each note as a delicate whisper (the title alludes to a breviary, or book of daily prayers and lessons, and the mood here is certainly early morning before the sun destroys pensive tranquility). The vocalists move in and out of tonal and rhythmic unison, canonic at times, as the orchestration breezes along in supple support; apart from the playful Intermède, the performers forego extended techniques and flamboyant showmanship for a well-placed drone and intriguing harmonic complexity — something, when combined with the aforementioned foothold in another era, escapes easy labels. Because of the diminutive gestures, the music never dips into textural murkiness, though the progression from work to work displays an increased penchant for dissonance (the liner notes call this a “tension between darkness and light”).

But enough with fitting Bréviaire d’épuisements into a box. Let’s garnish it with words from 13th century theorist Johannes de Grocheio:

“…not intended for the vulgar who do not understand its finer points and derive no pleasure from hearing it: it is meant for educated people and those who look for refinement in art.”

A bit snobby, but truthful.

I often wonder how music will sound 500 years from now. Will the change be drastic — a stylistic upheaval — or just subtly different? […] Isaiah Ceccarelli’s Bréviaire d’épuisements is that person’s answer.