Olivia De Prato, solo violin – Streya – New Focus FCR 193, 45:04 [3/2/18] ****:
Olivia De Prato’s solo violin outing, the 45-minute Streya, is unconventional, idiosyncratic and eclectic. De Prato has previously been a member of John Zorn’s Arcana Orchestra (see 2014’s Fragmentations, Prayers and Interjections). That little bit of musical history should give listeners an idea of what to expect on the six generally avant-garde tracks on Streya, which were written by separate composers over several years. The works—which run in length from five to ten minutes—are influenced by the LGBT community; interstellar occurrences; a dream-like hiking adventure; Bach; and particular prayer services. There is a wide tonal range on Streya, and although only De Prato is heard, she strays from solo violin and at times uses overdubbing, multi-tracking and various electronics to bring to life the multi-dimensional material.
De Prato commences with Samson Young’s intense, futuristic “Ageha, Tokyo,” which fuses overdubbed solo violin with extended electronics, including liquid sounds, staccato digital effects and other noises. De Prato’s violin is often dissonant and strident, as if trying to echo a besieged personality or an aggressive altercation. “Ageha” is Japanese for “swallowtail butterfly” but in the CD liner notes Young points out the word is also the name of Tokyo’s largest gay nightclub. The liner notes supply yet another indication of the tune’s forceful nature with the inclusion of a Japanese poem entitled, “Slow Vomit (In Tokyo).”
The nearly nine-minute title track—penned by Brooklyn-based Victor Lowrie—combines sweet and heated harmonic and melodic segments. Here, De Prato switches strictly to solo violin and there is much space to showcase her instrument’s timbre, tonality and natural reverberation. Lowrie mentions in the liner notes writing this music “conjured up an image of a star or planet being born, with tremendous energy and violence, viewed from millions of light years away.” Indeed, there is a sense of galactic intensity which emanates throughout “Streya.”
The most overtly classical number is Ned Rothenberg’s seven-minute “Percorso insolito” [Spanish to English translation: “Unusual path”]. Rothenberg (a NYC denizen) has worked with Zorn, Anthony Braxton, Evan Parker and others who have pushed music into new areas. The explorative “Percorso insolito” has earthier inspirations, specifically Rothenberg’s daydream about De Prato hiking through a hilly landscape where a simple path takes different directions and the terrain displays changing colors and textures; and the progress is constant but at times uneven. De Prato’s solo violin mirrors Rothenberg’s imaginative thoughts. The longest composition is Taylor Brook’s “Wane,” which Brook composed especially for multi-tracked violin performed by the same musician. Thus, De Prato is the lead violin and augments herself with four overdubbed violins which ‘shadow’ the main violin. The result is a distinctive violin quintet with music which stretches from masterfully melodic to a maelstrom of strings. The most clearly classical influence is heard on Reiko Füting’s “Tanz. Tanz” [German to English: “Dance, Dance”], which is fashioned on an analysis of Bach’s “Chaconne” by German musicologist Helga Thoene. Füting reveals in the liner notes Bach’s choral tunes “are woven into the texture of this unique closing statement of the D Minor Partita [and] form the original material of my composition.” The composition’s title also refers to Japanese novelist Haruki Marukami’s book Dance Dance Dance. Ironically, the nine-minute “Tanz. Tanz” is not a dance tune but rather a neo-classical piece with precisely rendered movements and pacing but is not highly rhythmic per se.
De Prato concludes as she starts, with another five-minute tune, Missy Mazzoli’s “Vespers for Violin,” which Mazzoli wrote expressly for amplified violin and electronics. Mazzoli states in the album liner notes this composition began as a reimagining of 2015’s Vespers for a New Dark Age, where Mazzoli took a longer suite which used keyboards, vintage organs, voices and strings and reconstructed it so a single violinist could perform the music with overdubs and multi-tracking. The outcome is a compendious but also broad performance which has the feel of a mini-orchestra. “Vespers for Violin” has a cinematic quality which evokes Vangelis’ Bladerunner soundtrack or Peter Gabriel’s Passion (Music from The Last Temptation of Christ). Streya employ a heterogeneous, often non-Western approach to musical tradition and creation and is not for all tastes. Some will find Streya fascinating and instructive. Others may not enjoy the diverse, outside-of-the-box musical perspectives.
Ageha, Tokyo (composed by Samson Young)
Streya (composed by Victor Lowrie)
Percorso insolito (composed by Ned Rothenberg)
Wane (composed by Taylor Brook)
Tanz, Tanz (composed by Reiko Füting)
Vespers for Violin (composed by Missy Mazzoli)