Waka

John Palmer (electronics), Ensemble Omega, Youngcher Park (percussion), Alejo Perez (conductor), Moira Muschalla (piano), Zoltan Kovacs (clarinet)

Listen & Purchase CD or downloads
Includes: “…as it flies…”NowhereWaka
label: Sargasso
SCD 28053

For his new CD John Palmer has collaborated with the versatile and innovative Ensemble Omega in Germany. The three new compositions presented here go from the purely acoustic waka to the purely electronic “…as it flies…” and are all concerned with metric and perceptive correlation between musical and literary forms. Palmer asks: “Can music be perceived as poetry? Can sounds, as doors of perception, emulate, equal, or even surpass the evocative imagery of verbal description?”

Waka explores Japanese literary metric forms and applies them to the musical structures. By contrast, “…as it flies…” which is dedicated to composer Luc Ferrari who died last year, uses as its only sound source the words of William Blake’s ‘Eternity’ poem. Finally, nowhere is inspired by a poem written by Palmer himself.
John Palmer has been gaining considerable international popularity in the last few years. His works are regularly played by some of the most prestigious ensembles and performers worldwide. Jonathan Harvey says of him: “I am ever more amazed at the development of John Palmer’s writing… The pieces are very strong and the command of sound – inner manipulation of acoustic structure – gets ever more magical! It is very powerful music that will demand as intense listening as it rewards with extreme emotional experience… Very admirable!”
As always, Palmer’s strength lies in his seamless blending of acoustic and electronic sounds to create subtle psycho-acoustic effects, blurring the listener’s senses. Also, his on-going methodical quest for the mystical ‘truth’ of sound itself makes him one of the few serious spiritual composers of our time.

Credits:
John Palmer (electronics), Ensemble Omega, Youngcher Park (percussion), Alejo Perez (conductor), Moira Muschalla (piano), Zoltan Kovacs (clarinet).
Recorded and produced at the ZKM, Karlsruhe and Vision Studio, London and Stuttgart.

TRACK LIST:

1. waka  (21:16)
for percussion and ensemble

2.“…as it flies…” (13:20)
for 8-channel tape

2. nowhere (14:31)
for clarinet, piano and electronics


Reviews

“Ob es eine angenehme, gar eine schöne Sache sein darf, Musik zuzuhören, ob es eine erregende oder gar zu erschaudernde sein darf oder eigentlich prinzipiell eine vor allem kathartische Angelegenheit, darüber mag sich gern streiten, wer statt neuer Musik lieber Neue Musik hört. Angenehm auf jeden Fall ist es, einer CD zuzuhören, die sich perfekt gegen gängige Beschreibungs- oder Rezensionsklischees sperrt. Gewiss, die drei zwischen 1993 und 2001 entstandenen Werke von John Palmer sind “Neue Musik”, was sich auch schon in der Kleinschreibung der treffenden Titel zeigt, aber sie sind vor allem in einem so hohen Masse “Klang”, dass sie sich dramaturgischen, ästhetischen, ja sogar farblichen und atmosphärischen Wort- und Werkkategorien entziehen, wie sie zum Einmaleins des Rezensenten gehören. Von “freier Klangrede” zu sprechen wäre eine erlaubte Notlösung, aber Palmers Musik spricht nicht wirklich, weil sie Gesten, Gebärden und Rhythmen im Sinne sprechender Musik meidet. Von “Klangfarbenmelodien” zu sprechen wiederum wäre der Versuch, mit antiquiertem Vokabular zu benennen, was eben gar nicht das Besondere, sondern das Selbstverständliche dieser musikalischen Zuständigkeit ist. Nein, das Ungewöhnliche und das Gelungene in Palmers Musik liegt in der Konsequenz, in der das Klingende immer weiterklingt, ohne dass eine intellektuelle, strukturelle oder dramaturgisch bestimmte Kategorie hörbar würde, die dieses Immer-anders- und Immer-doch-Weiterklingen irgendwie abgesichert oder didaktisch regelt.

Vor allem in waka, dem 21-minütigen Hauptwerk der CD, gelingen Palmer Klangvisionen, die das Zeitgefühl der Hörers auf die Probe stellen, wobei die im positiven Sinne improvisiert wirkenden Veränderungen der klingenden Räume stets natürlich und nicht inszeniert erscheinen. Diese musikalische Ungezwungenheit macht das Hören zu einem Abenteuer – wobei auch dieses Wort zu aufgeregt ist, zu expressionistisch für Palmers durchaus in sich ruhende, eher sanfte und stille Klangmusik, die aber durchweg auch anders ist als so manch modische Sanft-und Stille-Musik charakteristischer Post-Feldman-Stilistik.

Dass sich Palmer von der literarischen Form des japanischen tanka inspirieren liess, mag sich musikalisch mitteilen oder auch nicht – eine Spur japanischer Aura wohnt der Musik inne, wobei das Bildlich-Zeichnerische, das rasch Hingeworfene sich immer wieder für Momente in das Bewusstsein des Klingenden drängt, aber auch immer wieder vom puren Klang, vom eben nicht Bildhaften, auf seinen Platz gewiesen wird. Aber dies mitzuhören oder zu entdecken wäre Sache der Hörers, nicht des Rezensenten.”

Hans-Christian von Dadelsen, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Januar-Februar 2007

 

“I enjoyed the mysterious music of waka!”

Jonathan Harvey, May 2006

 

“Very beautiful music!”

Luc Ferrari on “…as it flies…”, August 2003

 

“Whether listening to music may be perceived as a beautiful, thrilling or even cringing circumstance, or primarily as a cathartic experience, for those who rather than listening to new music prefer to listen to “New Music”, such considerations may remain an on-going dispute. Listening to a CD which perfectly offers resistance to current descriptions and review stereotypes is by all means a good thing. Certainly, the three works written by John Palmer between 1993 and 2001 belong to “New Music”, a hint of which may be detected in the small letters of the titles. This is music with an amazing “sound” that eludes verbal and other categories of dramaturgy, aesthetics and even colour and atmosphere, certainly the way they tend to reside in the minds of reviewers.

Speaking of a free musical language would be an acceptable temporary solution, but Palmer’s music does not really speak, for it avoids gestures, movements and rhythm in the traditional sense of discursive music. On the other hand, to speak of Klangfarbemelodie would imply an antiquated vocabulary in attempting to describe not only what is obvious, but also an intrinsic component of the music. No, the exceptionality and success of Palmer’s music lies in the consistency with which the sound constantly keeps on sounding. It is an ever-changing and ever-sounding music articulated beyond intellectual, structural or dramatically determined categories and any possible form of academic clichés.

In waka, the 21-minute lasting main work on the CD, Palmer has successfully created sound visions that put the listener’s sense of time to the test while shaping ever-changing and almost improvised-sounding spaces whose effects constantly appear to be naturally flowing, rather than intellectually staged. This musical freedom turns the act of listening into an adventure, although this word conveys too much excitement and is certainly too much expressionistic for Palmer’s soft and quiet Klangmusik. It is a music that differs consistently from many examples of fashionable mild and quiet music of the typical “post-Feldman” style.

The fact that Palmer was inspired by the Japanese tanka may or may not come across his music. Indeed, a trace of Japanese aura dwells in the music, yet the pictorial imagery and impetuous thrusts suggest over and over again a musical consciousness constantly immersed in pure sound. Listening to it and discovering it shall be the listener’s, not the reviewer’s, task.”

Hans-Christian von Dadelsen, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, January-February 2007. (Translation: Jane Foster)

 

“On this album, Ensemble Omega perform three works by the UK-based composer John Palmer which all, some more successfully than others, look at the relationship between music and text. Waka takes its cue from the metric pattern of the Japanese tanka; whilst it’s difficult to discern the 5-7-5-7-7 pulse apparently used to structure the work, waka certainly has something of the spacious contemplation of traditional Japanese poetry. Palmer draws out a tapestry of delicate timbral effects from the chamber ensemble, often cut through with a pitter-pattering woodblock reminiscent of the ‘ki’ in Japanese theatre. This piece does everything that the composer intends, but its poised writing left me a little cold: it seemed to be all atmosphere and no heart.”

“…as it flies…”explores the William Blake poem Eternity in surgical detail, dissecting the text until it is simply phonetic sound and even sampling the breaths taken when reading the poem. Harking back to Berio’s vocal and tape pieces of the 1960s, the female vocals are transformed into fluttering percussive effects, sudden electronic stabs and ghostly text-fragments over an 8-channels tape. This is a well-paced, utterly homogenic work, with whole words and pitched elements appearing later on, and is a fairly unnerving listen late at night!
In nowhere, a clarinet emerges out of a sustained note in the piano in a delicately suspenseful opening. This fragility is well-controlled throughout a piece inspired by the sentiments of a poem written by the composer himself (‘timeless space/abandoned/in wastelands of memory/forgotten/and I/opened the door’). It is another detailed exploration of timbre, and by constraining himself to two instruments, Palmer works harder to create a wealth of sound colours, from rasping multiphonics and pitch bends in the clarinet to treated piano string effects. Electronics are used subtly, enhancing the pairing without muscling in and Zoltán Kovács displays some tautly versatile clarinet playing.
Kerry Andrew, new notes reviews, 14.09.2006

“John Palmer’s music is characterized by both a sensitivity for subtle transformations of timbre and a particular perception of space and silence. The three compositions on this CD are concerned, in particular, with a metric and perceptive correlation between musical and literary form. Palmer asks: “Can music be perceived as poetry? Can sounds, as doors of perception, emulate, equal, or even surpass the evocative imagery of verbal description?” This CD features three compositions: ‘waka’ (1999) and ‘nowhere’ (1993/2005) are performed here by Ensemble Omega. ‘…as it flies…’ (2001) is for 8-channel tape. ‘Waka’ explores Japanese literary metric forms and applies them to the musical structures. By contrast, ‘…as it flies…’, which is dedicated to Luc Ferrari, uses as its only sound source the words of William Blake’s ‘Eternity’. ‘Nowhere’ is inspired by a poem written by Palmer himself.

EMF – CDE Music, New York, 2006