Four Pieces for Quintet
After several years operating as a concert platform, Geneva-based INSUB. (formerly Insubordinations) have launched a label, with their first release arriving courtesy of Berlin-based composer and musician Hannes Lingens. Four graphical scores are interpreted by a group consisting of Lingens on accordion, Koen Nutters and Derek Shirley on double basses, Johnny Chang on viola, and Michael Thieke on clarinet. Long, drawn-out notes are used as building blocks to construct a range of slowly shifting harmonies, with some variation in dynamics, number of voices, and level of dissonance — a not uncommon approach in the spaces where influences from experimental composition and improvisation overlap, yet in a couple of important ways these four pieces stand out.
Most of the works I’ve come across from this scene push towards abstraction — not that they seek to form a relationship to tonality via its negation, as with the atonality of old, but rather they seem to completely efface (suppress?) the question of tonality altogether. However, what I gather from listening and from reading the thoughts of those more knowledgeable than I is that a relaxing of this attitude is becoming more and more audible. Lingens et al certainly put forward a cogent articulation of this new-found lack of panic regarding the tonal, cycling through rows of harmonies in which the concordant and the dissonant are given equal room to unfold. While allusions to tonal harmonies in these four pieces are just about strong enough to be coloured by those harmonies’ historical emotional connotations, it is probably more accurate to say (as Lingens himself puts it, in relation to beauty, in the insightful interview provided with the release) that composer and performers alike are no longer going out of their way to avoid the tonal, without necessarily transforming themselves into peddlers of the Western tonal commodity.
The more I hear this release, the more I find myself enjoying its ability to build structures that are simultaneously both challenging and recognisable, an experience that the traditional avant-garde disdain for the tonal does not allow for. Those bored by the dryness and airlessness of many a lowercase approach to new composition and improvisation may be pleasantly surprised by how many colours Lingens and his ensemble breath into the form. A welcome start from INSUB., and great work by Lingens and the performers.