A Fourth Stream Appears to the NakedEye Ensemble
A Series of Indecipherable Glyphs NakedEye Ensemble/Ju-Pin Song New Focus Recordings FCR 338 Total Time: 68:03 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****
The NakedEye Ensemble is a chamber ensemble from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that blends classical and rock styles into what might be a sort of “fourth stream” style of avantgarde electro-acoustical music. The latest collection of new music features works, many written for or arranged for the group, by seven composers.
Nick Didkovsky’s Amalia’s Secret (1994) opens the album. It is a 10-movement collection of brief miniatures created through the use of the composer’s own computer-generation music software. The opening feels very much jazz-inspired with its grooves and harmonic ideas and jagged melodic content. As the work progresses though there are rock infusions and riffs. All this is enhanced by the scoring that includes electric bass and guitar as well as drum set. Some moments are a distant Hendrix/heavy metal-like style that is all part of the grand strange collection of sounds. The work does shift between moments that are quite accessible harmonically to the more astringent and dissonance segments. Smaller looped ideas and motives can be somewhat discerned across the overall work as they are transformed through different instrumental combinations. It is all quite fascinating.
The eclecticism of the music here is perhaps best exemplified by a reminder of the roots for some of this experimentation. Frank Zappa might seem like an unlikely source of inspiration, but it was his experimental music of the 1970s and 1980s that in some ways paved the way for further exploration like this. Zappa might be thought of as the rock music world’s equivalent to Boulez in terms of avantgarde composition and performance. His 1981 Sinister Footwear II, is a new arrangement taken from a ballet. The work incorporates the sort of interesting grooves and rhythmic complexity. There are some trippy moments here as well. Later, Aaron Jay Myer’s Strabismus (2016) builds on Zappa’s style including its own interesting groove patterns with washes of sound and a good amount of propulsive energy.
Music by Whitney George ([These Hands] Holding Nothing, 2018), Rusty Banks (Dum Spectas Fugio, 2018), and Molly Joyce (Less is More, 2017) each take on a different aspect that experiments with a static, constant pulse (including added clock and other effects) and shifting layers of sound. Aspects of merged and dissonant rhythmic ideas are played against these sometimes ambient textures. The album wraps up with Nepeltalactone (2015, rev. 2021) by Richard Belcastro. It opens rather lazily and then builds towards a jaunty 7/8 groove featuring sax and interesting guitar work.
The performances are all engaging and committed as one might anticipate. The sound is really more like a studio recording with a quality often reserved for jazz or rock combos. It is not overly dry, but it does help to create a balance and quality that gives this a different feel than most contemporary chamber music recordings. It all works quite well and while these experimental ideas might cause come to pause, the music itself it all quite accessible with often good dramatic shape and energy. The diverse approaches to what are at the root similar stylistic concepts is also interesting to here in this rather unique release. The CD is packaged in a simple cardboard double sleeve but no detailed accompanying notes are included which is unfortunate, but the music communicates well all the same belying its leaning toward more popular genres. The variety in approaches is aided by the overall program sequencing as well. The album is set to be widely available in late July.