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Cikada, “Live at HCMF” = Works of LIM & NESS – LAWO

Cikada, “Live at HCMF” = LIZA LIM: Winding Bodies: Three Knots; The Heart’s Ear; JON ǾIVIND NESS: Gimilen – Cicada ens. – LAWO Classics LWC1086, 47:24 [Distr. by Naxos] (2/05/16) **1/2:

Great performances it seems of these pretty tough works.

I have heard the very talented and dedicated Cikada ensemble many times before and never been disappointed in their skill and artistry. That remains true and, frankly, most of what they do is pretty complicated and cerebral stuff that places many demands on the players as well as the audience. This live concert is no exception.

Recorded live at the 2014 Huddersfield (England) Contemporary Music Festival, we get three pretty thorny and abstract works by Australian Liza Lim and Norwegian Jon Ǿivind Ness. I was unfamiliar with either until now.

The first of the works by Lim is Winding Bodies: Three Knots, a three movement work that depicts or pays homage to an odd Nordic legend of sailors trying to buy favorable winds from some sorcerers. Each “knot” is intended to portray a type of wind condition that old time sailors would contend with. The work features some neat flute lines but also a ‘hardanger fiddle’ – an instrument indigenous to Norwegian folk music and which holds eight or nine strings where the top four are tuned and the ones underneath serve to vibrate sympathetically. The results are just a bit odd, creaky and defy traditional notions of tuning. Winding Bodies itself is an interesting work but is pretty abstract and a bit difficult to listen to.

Lim’s The Heart’s Ear is another pretty challenging piece but one that I appreciated a bit more. Apparently the work is a meditation on an old Sufi melody and Lim acknowledges her frequent inspiration from the writings of thirteenth century mystic Rumi (one notices that a lot lately, interestingly.) This is an interesting piece to be sure and the music sort of twists in and out of what one might consider a recognizable ‘melody.’

Jon Ǿivind Ness’s Gimilen is apparently a new iteration of a trio work, Drop, composed for Cikada. Ness explains in his own notes for this piece that his recent work has taken a turn toward the “slower and (more) introverted.” He further acknowledges his admiration of Mahler; but expect nothing reminiscent of any actual Mahler work herein. The work is more than a little mysterious and reflective and includes some quarter tone inflections throughout. It is also a very hard piece to completely “figure out” and is a bit – perhaps purposefully – unsettling. We don’t get much more information on this piece including the derivation of the title to reflect on from the booklet notes. I liked this work but, like Lim’s pieces, feel that this is a bit abstract for anyone not really attuned to the more abstract modern genres.

This album has as its cover art an old factory stack belching smoke; maybe a steel mill or coal-fired factory of some sort. In many ways this is the sense of this music; it is dark, complicated and not easy at all. Again, Cikada is easily one of the finest new music ensembles out there and Lim and Ness certainly seem like talented composers. It also seems like the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival is a pretty “cutting edge” affair. People who do not typically have a lot of patience for “modern music” should be aware going in though. [There is another new Cikada recording in the hi-res category section…Ed.]

—Daniel Coombs

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