Frank Denyer - Silenced Voices
The Barton Workshop & others
Frank Denyer & James Fulkerson, music directors
Woman, Viola and Crow (2004) (11:40)
Elisabeth Smalt, muted viola, voice, percussion sounds
Two Beacons (2005) (14:21)
Harma Everts, voice; Boris Visser, muted violin; Rozemarie Heggen, muted double-bass; Neil Sorrell, sarangi; Tobias Liebezeit & Juan Martinez Cortès, percussion; Jos Zwaanenburg, Melkorta Olafsdottir, Ayano Akubo, flutes; Joeri de Vente, horn; Yula Andrews, Ella Dangerfield, Catherine Guy, Lucinda Guy, Hannah Guyon, Lotti Jullien, Lona Kozic, Beth Minhinnett, Imogene Newland, Andrea Rushton, Rebecca Willson, female voices; Michael Bassett, Christopher Best, Sam Cullen, Richard Gonski, Michael Neil, Patrick Ozzard-Low, Kordian Tetkov, Ian Wellens, Trevor Wiggins, male voices.
Tentative Thoughts, Silenced Voices (2002-3) (16:13)
Marieke Keser, muted violin, voice; Elisabeth Smalt, muted viola, voice; Jose Garcia Rodrigues, Indian santur; Tobias Liebezeit & Juan Martinez Cortès, percussion; Christopher Best, voice with whistling tube; Trevor Wiggins, voice with six reeds; Patrick Ozzard-Low, voice with eunuch flute; Gertjan Loot, off-stage trumpet.
Ghosts Again (2004-5) (12:54)
Marieke Keser, muted violin; Yula Andrews, voice; Jos Zwaanenburg, flute; John Anderson, clarinet; Juan Martinez Cortès & Jose Garcia Rodrigues, percussion; Christopher Best, Richard Gonski, Patrick Ozzard-Low, Michael Bassett, Ian Wellens, Trevor Wiggins, voices & percussion staves.
Frank Denyer's music doesn't adhere to any easily-defined aesthetic prescripts, and the four recent works on this disc resist categorization and ready comparison to the work of other composers. The music on this CD is far from abstract, and the titles of the four works suggest as much - being rich in imagery and association and yet resistant to simple narrative interpretation.
Sonically, the four works share a common sense of intimacy. They inhabit an extremely quiet sound world. They place as great an importance on the level of nuance - in the strange quality of a particular microtonal interval, or a delicate shading of timbre, or a novel combination of instrumental and vocal sound - as they do on long melodic lines or large-scale formal structures.
In these pieces there are resonances (both sonic and associational) of sounds from the real world, or perhaps from dreams: breathing sounds (sometimes calm, sometimes sharp and disturbing intakes of breath); footsteps; knocking sounds; a crow call. These sounds exist on a kind of threshold, not immediately registering as music, and they subtly dislodge our listening from its familiar habits. The conventional instruments used here - violin, viola, flute, clarinet - hardly ever sound as they normally do, largely because the sounds they make are so soft, so disembodied, that they seem like voices of a post-holocaust civilization. Occasional fragments of melody drift past, seeming at times like imperfectly remembered snatches of something familiar.
All four works present combinations of instruments that have rarely if ever been heard together before, offering totally fresh sonic images.
Liner notes by Bob Gilmore.
The Barton Workshop; Elisabeth Smalt (viola)
Frank Denyer and James Fulkerson (musical directors)
Silenced Voices is the second Mode Records disc devoted to the work of English composer Frank Denyer. Like its predecessor, Faint Traces, Silenced Voices features the Barton Workshop, the Amsterdam-based group that Denyer co-founded in 1989. Joined on this new disc by a number of male and female vocalists and some additional instrumentalists, the Barton Workshop presents four recent, substantial works: Woman, Viola and Crow (2004) was composed for, and is performed by, Dutch violist Elisabeth Smalt, who is required not only to execute the most delicate and controlled sustained sounds on muted viola, but also vocalise, shake a set of rattles on her back and produce audible footsteps with special shoes; both Two Beacons (2005) and Tentative Thoughts, Silenced Voices (2002-3) are for ensembles of voices, various string instruments (including Indian sarangi and santur), percussion and offstage 'presences' (male and female vocal ensembles in the former, trumpet in the latter); Ghosts Again (2004-5) is for two sextets, one of homogenous and one of non-homogenous instrumentation.
The four works might be heard as a totality, as one long process; a process that is analogous to that of excavating for fragments of ancient pottery. Single sounds and short-lived sonic microcosms follow each other like a sequence of unearthed artefacts, each at once self-contained and possessed of multiple relationships: relationships with the fragment unearthed last, the fragment that might be unearthed next, all the fragments unearthed in the present excavation, and, ultimately, all the fragments ever unearthed. Sometimes fragments fit together across time to reveal an exquisite tableau, such as the short instances of viola harmonics in Woman, Viola and Crow. Sometimes three or four similar shards of brightly painted porcelain are discovered over several minutes, as in the chorale-like vocal segments that leap out of the texture in Tentative Thoughts, Silenced Voices or the strangely unsettling crow calls that punctuate Woman, Viola and Crow. When one hears the large 'off-stage' male and female vocal ensembles in Two Beacons or the 'off-stage' trumpet in Tentative Thoughts, Silenced Voices, or the frail exhalations of breath in Ghosts Again, it's like coming across an object you recognise from your childhood buried in the topsoil - it's faded, chipped perhaps, but recognisable and charged with memories.
Rich with a multiplicity of counterpoints, the music suggests a multitude of associations - within the music, beyond it and even within the personal life of the listener, as Bob Gilmore suggests in his insightful liner notes. I can only imagine what dimensions would be added to this music in live performance, where the theatre of performance would act in addition to the sounds.
This music calls for immersion, I feel, the way David Lynch's latest film, Inland Empire, calls for immersion. Or the music of late-period Morton Feldman. Although Denyer is quoted in the liner notes as preferring that listeners don't raise the volume when listening to the CD, I still felt the best way to immerse myself in this disc was to turn the volume way up and put my head between the speakers.
Regardless of your volume preferences, though, this disc's sublimely sensitive performances and subtle production will offer a highly concentrated experience.
--- Garrett Sholdice, Journal of Music in Ireland, 2009
The rattling of a string of shells
The English composer Frank Denyer is the creator of a poetic world full of shadows and spirits, of noises behind walls and rustlings in trees. As a composer he is not widely known, and that is strange. Firstly because his music is very authentic and seems to be distinct from any streams. Secondly because he conjours up a world that grabs you immediately by the collar. Denyer writes hushed music that asks for a special kind of musician - his sounds are often so vulnerable that they only come to life under the right hands. That happens here time and time again. Take Woman, Viola and Crow, wherein top musician Elisabeth Smalt with a vulnerable voice sings along with the sparse tones on her viola. There sound footsteps, the rattling of a string of shells, and the calling of crows. All very miraculous and enchanting. In the other compositions the Barton Workshop plays just as magically, in this creaking wooden house in a nocturnal wood.
--- Anthony Fiumara, TROUW, 22 November 2008 (The Netherlands)
Also by Frank Denyer on Mode Records:
Faint Traces - with The Barton Workshop (mode 151)
Frank Denyer Profile
The Barton Workshop Profile
Frank Denyer Online
© Mode Records