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Tracy SILVERMAN (b. 1960) Between the Kiss and the Chaos, concerto for electric violin and string quartet* [32:18] Axis and Orbits, for electric violin and loop pedals [25:20]
Tracy Silverman (electric violin)
The Calder Quartet*
rec. Matthew Snyder Recording and GutLab South, Nashville, TN, dates not given. DELOS DE 3439 [57:20]
Tracy Silverman is recognised as a soloist, performing widely and having worked in Los Angeles with Esa-Pekka Salonen in music written for him by John Adams. He is a veteran of the Turtle Island String Quartet, and one of contemporary music’s all-round good guys. This recording of two remarkable sets of works for electric violin demonstrates both his performing and composing chops, and very good chops they are indeed.
Using the excellent Calder Quartet as a foil for some dramatic and colourful solos, Silverman’s Between the Kiss and the Chaos links with the work and spirit of five visual artists, and inspired by imaginary scenarios. Michelangelo: David finds the great sculptor of antiquity working at a great block of marble, the vision of the figure within revealed through beautiful, sustained, almost ecclesiastical lines interrupted by an energetic syncopation - “David calling him from within the stone, begging Michelangelo to set him free.” Henri Matisse: La Danse sets up a folksy circle-of-fifths loop over which improvisatory playing arcs and swings, the electric violin emulating a rock guitar. This is a great piece, but I would have loved it to have had a climactic ‘killer moment’ as well, whereas here it just goes through its process like a set of variations. Georgia O’Keefe: The Red Poppy has a John Adams ‘Shaker Loops’ feel in its opening, radiant nature revealing itself at first hesitantly, and then with shimmering beauties of sound. Vincent Van Gogh: The Starry Night sees the stars singing to the artist with deep expression after a day’s painting in the fields, while the longest of these pieces, Pablo Picasso: Guernica, is a dark and improvisatory representation which pits horror and war in thudding drums and Shostakovich references against “the spark of life” - a sense of survival and optimism against the odds.
Axis and Orbits uses loop pedals - electronic devices which allow you to create echo effects and sequences set to repeat for as long as you need. These can be mixed into each other or can be used as the basis for performance, and Tracy Silverman is an expert in their use. The opening of four pieces, Axis and Orbits creates a fascinating loop on gently echoing pizzicato strings, against which another loop with sustained notes is set - their differing lengths creating constant change and forming a field of sound over which the solo lines can flourish. Camshaft has a ‘dirty’ feel to it, and we can relish a complex sequence of loops with multiple layers in an endlessly fascinating and groovy sound. Sacred Geometry takes its inspiration from insect noises in Brazil and develops the technique of mixing more than one loop in a nervy collection of micro-ostinati, behind which a song of stars emerges. The final piece is Mojo Perpetuo, an ostensibly more simple concept with a single loop, but a long and fiercely intense one, the second half of the piece being a duet which the violinist plays against the recording in reverse.
Highly approachable and hugely enjoyable, this is a release of some new music I would commend to almost anyone. I personally greatly enjoy hearing instruments transformed using different sounds, but if you are allergic to electric guitar ‘distortion’ then this might not be for you. If this is the case then you are missing out on a treat, since Tracy Silverman remains faithful to his violinistic medium, and these effects are more ornamental than essential, the character of the music always drawing the listener in rather than attempting any kind of pomp-rock pretension. With a wealth of vibrant colour and the intelligence of a brilliant performer behind each track, this is music which knows what it wants to do and does it to great effect.