I wasn’t previously familiar with the work of Dublin-born, London-based composer Paul McGuire, but his music has been performed by London Sinfonietta, Loré Lixenberg, and Sarah Nicolls, with festival outings at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and Bang On A Can. His new album “Sleep Spindles” comes courtesy of the recently-revived Slip imprint, and immediately grabbed my ear with its diverse and striking mix of timbres.
Of the album’s three tracks, the first and third seem to sit comfortably alongside the work of musicians such as Enrico Malatesta, Luciano Maggiore, d’incise, and Cyril Bondi, all of whom tend to favour close attention to one or two things. One sound at a time is explored either episodically interspersed with silence (“Tampered”) or in a long continuous stretch (“Sleep Spindles”). Although I heard both pieces as being produced by percussive objects, I only guessed right with “Sleep Spindles”: “Tampered” uses recordings of sounds made by Céline Papion’s cello, and builds interest through contrasts of timbre, pitch, and energy, ranging from the clatteringly frenetic to soft, long squeaks. The sounds of “Sleep Spindles” are quite similar, but here the contrast comes in two halves: a long continuous scrunching, then silence punctuated by single percussive taps, very faint whispers, a musical yin and yang.
Middle track “Marshes” is quite different. Whereas the sounds on the other two piece are clear and discrete, the third is a blurry, muted cacophony. My guess is that it’s constructed from heavily manipulated recordings of orchestral instruments, but the clanging, boggy soup is a very long way from any recognisable referent. It still seems to be the textures and timbres McGuire wants us to focus on, however: these persist in the same mode for quite some time, churning and grinding, changing subtly but never really losing that sharp, heaving quality. The piece doesn’t so much develop (in the clunky composition class sense) as seethe, and yet I could’ve listened to this seethe for a lot longer than the eight minutes or so provided. It’s certainly the most intriguing and beguiling piece of the three, and over several listens is starting to become my favourite. All told, “Sleep Spindles” is an enjoyable and well-rounded album.