‘Insomnio’ = JUKKA TIENSUU: nemo; JAMES WOOD : De telarum mechanicae ; RODERIK DE MAN: Chromophores; LUCA FRANCESCONI: Islands – Insomnio (ensemble)/Ulrich Pohl – Encora Records multichannel SACD enc-011 (5.1), 67:37 ****:
The Insomnio Ensemble takes a position in the European new music scene that I find wholly admirable. Its founder and conductor, Ulrich Pohl, has created a chamber orchestra comprised of mostly younger, enthusiastic and very talented players, playing repertory by lesser known composers and performs in unusual creative spaces, such as shopping malls! This disc illustrates what an unusual but artistically satisfying venture this can be!
The opening piece in this collection was enough to hook me. Jukka Tiensuu is a Finnish composer whose music blends acoustical sources, such as traditional orchestral winds, with electronic sources and creates an impossible to categorize and quite interesting collections of tonalities and sound-effects. “nemo” – which in this case refers to the Finnish term for “nobody” blends the chamber ensemble and chattering winds, clucking strings and low brass and some electronically processed arctic bird sounds. There is even a moment about halfway through where a synthesized chorus (or vocal timbres) intrude and expand the timbres and slow the forward motion. The effect is startling, nearly arresting. There is almost no way to predict what comes next in this fascinating piece but I found it absolutely captivating!
James Wood’s “de telarum mechanicae” (a loom) is also a hypnotic beautiful work. The composer, who lives and works in England, explains that each instrument in the ensemble is treating like “thread” in the context of a whole wherein the elements are woven together, cut off, intertwined, become dominant or submerged in the color scheme as the forward motion of the piece acts like a loom with these “threads.” The net effect is quite interesting as the colors change, the harmonic motion is slow, but not static and timbres do collaborate or collide, accordingly. This is a fascinating work; one that makes me curious about Mr. Woods’ other works.
The brittle metallic timbres that open “Chromophores” by Roderik de Man give way to some strangely compelling solo winds and ethereal piano and string sounds. De Man, from Holland, explains that chromophores are cell structures (such as those in the dermis of chameleons and other light sensitive creatures) that can change their color in their surroundings. In this case, the colors of the orchestra shift subtly by their exposure to electronically added effects and the interaction of some very unique timbres (like mandolin) in the context of more traditional sources. There are some nice timbral changes that can be “timed” with tempos and harmonic shifts as well. The highlights within this work, for me, were some very exotic and attractive wind solos (like bass clarinet) that drift in and out of a somewhat abstract context.
Luca Francesconi has some artistic and educational connections to the “masters” of the Italian avant-garde of the 1960s and ‘70s; such as Dallapiccola, Maderna and Luciano Berio. Some of that influence can be heard in Francesconi’s “Islands” in which there is an almost strained symbiosis between a solo piano and the ensemble of twelve. The title refers to what the composer considers little “islands” of pitch groups taken from the principle components (the tone row) on which the piece seems to be built and using sets of pitch subsets and particular instrumental combinations that appear and recede almost with the piano and its lines almost as a large body of water in which the islands reside. This is, of the four pieces represented here, is perhaps the most abstract, but an attractive work none the less.
I think the best reason to check out this album is to get to this fascinating and wonderful ensemble. Insomnio are wonderful musicians with a clear talent and dedication for the new under the able leadership of Ulrich Puhl. The surround sound on this disc is great and is showcased especially well in the Tiensuu work. I recommend this to any fan of new music played very well and given great audio engineering!
— Daniel Coombs
Mack Avenue Records released a stunning live album!