In the book This is Your Brain on Music, author Daniel Levitin retells something Miles Davis once said of his own music: “[…] he described the most important part of his solos as the empty space between notes, the “air” that he placed between one note and the next.” I was immediately brought back to this tidbit from the book upon listening to the new work by Mark So, And Suddenly From All This Came Some Horrid Music, a score, performed in this instance by Cristian Alvear (guitar) and Gudinni Cortina (turntable).
In this performance, the players are as important as the composer, because even though they are interpreting a score (which, by the way, is an abstract visual and text score), it is the performers’ job to make that score meaningful. To make it come alive. It’s apparent rather quickly that Alvear and Cortina have a musical chemistry, each one careful to not drown out the other with their respective instrument. Also noteworthy is how one musician will often seem to pick up where the other left off, despite how disparate the two instruments actually are. Leading us back to the Davis quote, this music is heavily reliant on space. Both artists actualize this concept well, but it is Alvear – whose guitar is featured more predominantly throughout – who best puts it into practice, with a minimal playing style that is so precise that it verges on tedious.
Cortina, on the other hand, reigns in a sound that is more lush, but also, more abrasive. The sounds are recognizably that of a turntable, only Cortina is clearly using a range of other, smaller instruments to scratch, scrape, and rub up against the machine’s moving parts. The tactility of Cortina’s turntable juxtaposes well with the very simple plucks of the guitar. There is a stretch in particular, at around the 14 minute mark, where the sound of the turntable dissipates, leaving only the solitary guitar to ring out into open space. Then, the guitar also ceases and we’re left with a duration of silence before both players suddenly come back into the mix. In the face of a limited palette, it goes to show the importance of a musical imagination (think I might be ripping off Steve Reich there, sorry).
Unfortunately, the CD does not include the score, which, would have been interesting to look at and compare to the music. This would likely shine some light on why the piece sounds the way it does, why, for example, the final minutes act like a return to the album’s opening seconds – Cortina’s turntable nowhere to be heard. Or, why it is that one of the two players will occasionally drop out of the mix entirely. Is there something about the score, visually, that prompts them to do so? If so, what is it? What does that full stop look like to the eyes of the musician interpreting it? Ultimately, the music is good enough on its own to not have to lean heavily on context for support. Another fine album from caduc.
Update: May 16, 2017
Mr. Alvear got in touch and kindly informed me that the images and text that are on the CD packaging are in fact the score, which, I initially concluded were absent from the packaging. Always best not to assume. Thanks.