Various Artists - Far Away But Ever Closer: Young Lithuanian Compose [Music Information Centre Lithuania - 2018]Lithuania has never had an easy time. Sandwiched between East and West and often caught in the struggles between empires, theirs has been a history of conquest, liberation, adsorption and finally independence; most recently from the Soviet Union. The country's location on the margins of both the Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches was a significant factor in it being the last bastion of European paganism well into the second millennium. Traces of volkish animism in the form of anthropomorphic wood carvings and other folk-art can still be found in rural areas. This compilation situates itself in direct opposition to the country's insular past, instead highlighting the relationship between processes of globalisation and artistic production within a small mobile community of composers.
Several of the composers featured trained at the Sonology Institute in the Hague (sort of the Dutch equivalent to IRCAM) and this commonality leans the compilation strongly in favour of electro-acoustic composition and sound art. With the exception of Gediminas Zygus who has released records under the name J.G.Biberkopf, none of the artists featured have any significant discography to their names.
Both Andrius Arutiunian and Zygus look to the past with their contributions. The former on Armen where he utilises old vinyl and cassette recordings produced by the Armenian diaspora to create a cut-up and collage like effect. Zygus includes a suitably hyper-real soundscape from his The Fountain of Meaning EP in which processed plainsong and choirs swirl around an imagined sacred space. Jūra Elena Šedytė's Nice to Meet You is the first of five compositions out of the nine included which are composed by women (a ratio which many a Western European conservatoire could learn from!). The piece combines processed pre-recorded acoustic music with viola and double bass. The playful counterpoint of dissonance (including a detuned piano) and flighty bursts of strings is in stark contrast to Donatas Tubutis's contribution which hits the hard-core modernist notes with a very stark Curtis Roads type exercise in minimal electro-acoustic composition. A juddering, snapping electronic rhythm is slowly modulated over six minutes producing - for those with a degree of endurance - an almost hypnotic effect, like watching the intersection of several ripples across water, producing new intensities and frequencies.
Justina Šikšnelytė and Juta Pranulytė both offer different takes on acoustic performance. Pranulytė's Intus is a growling exorcism by double bass, layering waves of dissonance upon each other to build intensities before letting them slide away. Undoubtedly the album's most listenable moment, Šikšnelytė's Going In is a piece for tuned percussion full of limpid lyricism and melodious counterpoint between marimba and vibraphone.
The last three pieces take us to the contemporary edge of modern composition and feature pieces composed in 2018. Aurimas Bavarskis' v.a.l. is music as if composed in a top secret laboratory. Layers of modulated static combines with breathy drones and other alien sounds, all of which are occasionally punctuated by a humble flute, as if the wind instrument had been abducted by some extra-terrestrial intelligence for the purpose of study. Aistė Noreikaitė's Digital Empathy provides the album's most conceptually dense moment. The composition is a result of a performance involving technology which translated the brain activity of audience members into sounds and combined it with signals being sent from devices worn by Noreikaitė and her performance partner as they moved around. The result is an thoroughly strange mix of futuristic drones and electronic sounds. I would call it otherworldly, if it weren't that these sounds were being directed by electronic signals from the human body itself. Truly music from within! Finally Vitalija Glovackyte rounds off the album with Tender Volts a piece conceived for the Kammer Klang concert series. Genuine machine music, it features the amplified sounds of slimming belt motors that despite its "low-fi" origins creates a suitably large and immersive sound.
Far Away But Ever Closer showcases an excellent collection of contemporary music from a group of talented young composers. Undoubtedly all the music here is marked by the developments in Western European contemporary music and particularly in Parisian schools of Musique Concrete and post-Boulezian composition. As such, the specifically Lithuanian element here is perhaps a little lacking; which according to Edvardas Sumila's introduction in the booklet may well be attributed to the lack of forward looking music schools in the country and hence the need for aspiring composers to seek training and opportunities abroad. The hope he expresses, which I share, is that the constant interplay between those leaving and returning can continue to nurture this young democracy's musical culture.