Daniel Rothman, Ernstalbrecht Stiebler: Sens(e) Absence

Bozzini Quartet

About

Sehr langsam “Very slow” — a tempo indication, as well as the title of this piece. It characterizes the music itself, asking the listener for patience, for calm concentration, and for abandoning himself to the sound. This sound extends into the room, finding the listener-and it might also trigger a resonance in that inner room everybody finds within himself (Kafka), a place where the listener communicates with the inside of the sound, its quality, its spectrum of partial tones, and its microtones as they give their emphasis and differentiation to the sound colour. These sounds are soft-an emotional forte would sever the act of listening in this microtonal sound space, as if by a glaring spotlight. The experience of this particular space is energized, stimulated and invigorated by the sound. A friend once said that this piece has many endings, in the sense that it is continuously fading away-which is true. In these moments, the individual energy of the composed music diminishes, as it were. There, we experience the silence into which this music moves in ever renewed attempts. In order to enhance the musical experience of this piece, it is suggested to listen to it at a reduced volume level.

Ernstalbrecht Stiebler

Sense Absence was premiered by the Bozzini Quartet at Berlin’s Ballhaus Naunynstraße on the same program as the quartet by Ernstalbrecht Stiebler that shares this disk. Composing for strings has always been, for me, a process of discovery, with their infinite tuning possibilities that produce subtle harmonies and timbres of great nuance and beauty. I imagined, while composing it, space being both temporal and architectural where voices are heard from other dimensions. These considerations influenced the unusual tuning system I devised, which produces a great variety of close and wide intervals with natural harmonics. The music’s structure is therefore like inhabiting a building whose rooms always seem different as light changes throughout the day and through the seasons. It is with this in mind that the music was the source for a sound and light installation that occupied the Hans Otte Raum at the Neues Museum Weserberg Bremen: as Bremen’s autumn and winter daylight diminished outside, the Hans Otte Raum inside was suffused in a constant rotation of light created by Paul Tzanetopoulos. Over the course of three months the music gradually reduced to one percent of that which is heard here.

Daniel Rothman

Format
CD
Label
Collection QB
Catalogue no
CQB 1111

In the Press

Critique

By Guillaume Belhomme in Le son du grisli (France), February 25, 2012
… tant les nuances et déviations inspirent de subtilité à ces deux pièces.

Sur Sens(e) Absence, le Quatuor Bozzini tend ses cordes et les arrange en fils télégraphiques. Sous l’archet, ceux-ci respirent: donc, se répètent. Mais sans lasser, tant les nuances et déviations inspirent de subtilité à ces deux pièces, signées Ernstalbrecht Stiebler et Daniel Rothman, couplées pour être d’un contemporain subtil.

Review

By Dolf Mulder in Vital #801 (Netherlands), October 10, 2011
Not an easy work this suite. Life isn’t an easy matter either.

Founded in 1999 this string quartet has built a reputation in interpreting all kinds of modern Music in well-defined projects. Earlier releases concentrated respectively on Steve Reich, James Tenney, etc. This year two new releases saw the light. Sens(e) Absence has two lengthy and otherwise related works by Ernststalbrecht Stiebler (Sehr langsam) and Daniel Rothman (Sense Absence). Sehr langsam from veteran German composer Stiebler, describes perfectly how this piece progresses. It moves very slowly forward, through a constant fading in and fading out of the strings, who play long extended notes. The piece breaths a deep sonority and ask for an exercise in patience, in just listening without expecting much to happen. Rothman is an american composer of a younger age, who composed a piece that is closely related to Sehr langsam. Also his composition is about drones and moves on very slowly, again through the playing of long extended notes. In both pieces little intervals, harmonies and other details are discovered when listening attentively. On Le mensonge et l’identité the Bozzini Quartet shows a different face. It is a work by Joane Hétu and Jean Derome for string quartet, “whom members speak, move about, improvise, and accompany themselves with a prerecorded tape.” The work is divided in three sections. In the first part we see the classical quartet. In the second part the musicians start to move on stage from their original positions. In the third section the musicians operate individually. Over the pieces the music moves from composed to improvised, from constructed to deconstructed. But whatever happens, throughout the musicians play together, cooperating in one work. The music is also meant as a metaphor for what happens in our society. Institutions disappear, leaving the individual alone and homeless. However music is a force that create community as well spiritually as physically. That is the philosophy of this piece, and that can be picked up from the spoken parts. Sometimes the music is interrupted by spoken words, and other places they move along unisono. Personally I’m not a fan of music where spoken words are part of the concept, to communicate some message. But that is a matter of taste. Not an easy work this suite. Life isn’t an easy matter either.

Critique

By Pierre Durr in Revue & Corrigée (France), August 1, 2011
… il y d’abord des pièces qui interroge l’homme, à la fois dans son positionnement dans la société, que part rapport à lui-même.

Le quatuor à cordes québécois nous gratifie pour ce premier semestre 2011 de deux nouvelles productions (au moment où cette chronique est rédigée, paraît un 3e enregistrement, Aberrare) bien que l’une des pièces du dernier, la composition de Daniel Rothman ait été enregistrée il y a déjà 4 ans. Au-delà de la diversité des auteurs (après Reich, Tenney, Skempton, Goldstein, Vivier et quelques autres, les quatre musiciens se sont d’abord adressés à deux activistes d’Ambiances Magnétiques, un compositeur allemand et un dernier, Daniel Rothman qui œuvre dans la mouvance des enregistrements Lovely), il y d’abord des pièces qui interroge l’homme, à la fois dans son positionnement dans la société, que part rapport à lui-même. Mensonge, identité, sens, absence. Il y a comme une complémentarité entre les deux réalisations. Seul, peut-être la composition d’Ernstalbrecht Stiebler Sehr langsam (très lentement) échappe à ces questionnements, tout en mettant en jeu la capacité d’écoute, des notions de patience, parfois inhérentes à la recherche de sens, tandis que l’absence — d’un être souvent — peut être lié à une incapacité d’écoute ou à un manque de patience…

Structurellement, et musicalement, il y a toutefois deux approches. Le mensonge et l’identité privilégie plutôt le dynamisme, le mouvement, l’éclatement pour une pièce qui met en jeu le rapport de l’individu (les musiciens, du 2e mouvement au 3e, s’individualisent progressivement) à la communauté (le 1er mouvement privilégie l’entente, le regroupement). Sens(e) Absence par les deux titres qu’il propose joue plutôt sur le mode minimaliste et l’intériorisation.

Dans la composition de Jean Derome et Joane Hétu, les cordes virevoltent, grincent, jouent tantôt en unisson, tantôt en opposition et se démarquant l’une de l’autre (même physiquement, l’enregistrement donnant à attendre les bruits de pas…), usant des diverses techniques de jeu des cordes. L’intervention de la voix, récitée, citant tel ou tel auteur (Hubert Reeves, l’actrice Brigitte Poupart, Françoise Giroud…), faisant tel ou tel constant sur l’état du monde, affirmant des certitudes voire mentant et conjuguée tantôt en allemand, tantôt en français, parfois en anglais voire en italien participe de cette individualisation, (rappel des suites de la tour de Babel?). Un enregistrement tourbillonnant et plutôt passionnant.

Sehr langsam, la pièce de Ernstalbrecht Stiebler, élève dans les années 50 de Stockhausen, se présente comme un drone qui s’écoule pendant près d’une demi-heure, montrant les affinités du compositeur avec l’univers d’un — par exemple — La Monte Young (trio for strings). Sans être foncièrement originale, la qualité de l’enregistrement met en évidence le jeu complémentaire des trois registres de cordes (violon, alto, violoncelle). Sens(e) Absence semble être la suite logique. La composition de Daniel Rothman use aussi du drone, mais elle présente de subtiles variations de tonalité, comme si alternativement chacun des registres des cordes prenait l’avantage pour se fondre dans un processus qui intègre quelques interruptions et silences (10 à 15 secondes), avant de reprendre avec des sonorités parfois plus proches de l’univers électronique. Un second enregistrement qui nécessite une approche différente de l’auditeur.

Review

By Byzantion in MusicWeb International (UK), June 1, 2011
Their dedication to new music is unwavering […] this is the hardcore end of uncompromising

The Montréal-based Bozzini Quartet, named after the sisters who founded it in 1999, Isabelle (cello) and Stéphanie (viola), have now released a dozen CDs, mostly on the label they set up in 2004. Their dedication to new music is unwavering: according to the liner-notes, they have commissioned an incredible hundred-plus works, and premiered more than 150 — including the two on this disc, which here receive their first, and in all likelihood, last recording.

There is little current information available about veteran German composer Ernstalbrecht Stiebler on the internet; his works list in the online version of the New Grove Dictionary has not been updated since 2003. What is clear is that Stiebler was at the Darmstadt summer schools in the late 1950s, where he apparently took Karlheinz Stockhausen’s composition course and came under the influence of the musical style — if that is the right word — of LaMonte Young. Nearly fifty years on, Stiebler is still evidently fascinated by those ideas — of sustained sounds and minute changes over time. If it is nothing else, Stiebler’s Sehr Langsam is honest — it is indeed very slow. It begins with a drone that sounds a lot like the quartet tuning up in slow motion — and then carries on in similar fashion for half an hour, ending more or less as it began.

Stiebler says that the title Sehr Langsam gives both the tempo indication and "characterizes the music itself, asking the listener for patience, for calm concentration, and for abandoning himself to the sound." He adds: "In order to enhance the musical experience of this piece, it is suggested to listen to it at a reduced volume level." Some, perhaps many, may be inclined to take that advice to its extreme and switch the CD off. There is no sense of development or narrative — this is the hardcore end of uncompromising!

There is even less information about American composer Daniel Rothman readily available. His Sense Absence is in some ways similar to Stiebler’s work — those who are not impressed by this kind of avant-garde soundscaping will find it all too similar, especially confronted with the fact that it is even longer. It could also just as easily have been titled Sehr Langsam. What initially sets it apart, however, is that every now and again, the long drone, which is higher-pitched — reminiscent of a loud tinnitus, perhaps — breaks off to allow several seconds of silence to intervene. Rothman likens the work to "a building whose rooms always seem different as light changes throughout the day and through the seasons", but the listener must also factor in Rothman’s "unusual tuning system" which gives an effect that is both spectral and relentless — until at 23 minutes, that is, when the instrumentalists suddenly take to plucking. Two minutes later the drone tries to start up again, failing at first, but ultimately forcing the sound on to the end which, as with Stiebler’s work, is quite a lot like its beginning, although by now the sonorities are almost electronic in their mesmeric effect.

Rothman writes that "Composing for strings has always been, for me, a process of discovery, with their infinite tuning possibilities that produce subtle harmonies and timbres of great nuance and beauty", but the beauty in this work is so subtle that most listeners will look for it in vain. Nevertheless, within very narrow constraints, there is more variety here than in Sehr Langsam, more interest.

The notes suggest that these two works create "a luminous space in which our thoughts can be reflected, can wander and explore freely", but it is hard to believe there is anything but a minuscule market for this kind of experimentalism — a strong liking for Stockhausen or LaMonte Young is probably a prerequisite in any prospective listener.

On the other hand, for artistic freedom’s sake, the Bozzini Quartet deserve credit for making it available. Sound quality is very good. There is no jewel case or CD booklet as such, however. The disc is housed in a cardboard sleeve which folds out. All information — in French and English, but in fairly short supply — is printed straight onto the card.