Catherine Lamb & Johnny Chang - Viola Torros [Another Timbre - 2019]Here we have a double CD section of modern compositions/ often angular drone interpretations of the work of Viola Torros- a mysterious female Indian musician from the late Vedic period (c. 1500 – c. 500 BCE) who was born somewhere in the Indus valley region- then travelled around Indian playing her compositions.
The two key players/rearranges here are Berlin-based composer/ performer Johnny Chang, and Washington based performer/ composer Catherine Lamb- each plays violas and arranges the tracks from elements of Torros originals. They are supported over the two discs by: voice work( Antione Beuger, Yannick Guedon, Deborah Walker, Rebecca Lane, Annie Garlid, and Margareth Kammerer), Resonances(Bryan Eubanks), The Suidobashi Chamber ensemble, Rainbow Synth( Andrea Neumann), and Cello( Derek Shirley).
The release takes in four tracks in all- two on each disc- these have runtimes between thirty & forty-one minutes. First up on disc one we have "V.T Augmentations II"- this features the pair on Violas, voices & resonance- the work begins with the two-stringed instruments sliding & droning, with one seemingly just out of pace with the other- this creates a feeling drowsy stretched melancholy- to start with the tones are quite sour & angular, but as the piece progresses with harmonic traces start to appear, and the further we go the strings start to join each, or at least blend together in a more pleasing & hopeful manner. This creates a feeling akin to watching time slowed footage of a morning fog very slowly clearing over a natural landscape of grand hills, sweeping forests, and winding country roads. The voice elements are not particularly pronounced, and really they seemed to help build the feeling of shifting angularity-to-slight more harmonic dwells.
Next is "V.T Aurmentatiations III"- and this has the same sonic line-up as the first piece. The whole thing starts off a lot more earthy & sour than the first track, as we get deeper & Indian sounding stretches of string work from the pair- to me these rather conjured up the sensation of watching heat haze lift & simmer on a tarmac road. Also, there is not so much of the consistent flowing & growing quilty present here, as from time-to-time we’re left in anticipating silence, or near silence, as we can make out the distant chatter of bird song. As this track progresses more joining, harmonic & later grand feeling drones appear- and from the outset, the voice hovers are more clear & defined- really enhancing the almost otherworld moments of the track. Of this first disc, I’d say this is my favorite of the two tracks, as it’s quite spellbinding in the way it builds from a simmering earthy drone, through to rising if still a little awkward grandeur.
Moving onto the second disc in the set we have “Citaric Melodies III”- and this nearing thirty-one minute track has a composer credit of just Chang, with the piece been played by the eight-piece Suidobashi Chamber ensemble- which features flute, violin, clarinet, electric guitar, bassoon, viola( by Chang), Bass Clarinet, and clarinet. The piece is extremely sparse, at times wavering- with the instruments slowly drifting & ebbing to creating a somber-yet simmering series of drone swells. At moments the piece reminded me of a more stretched out & sluggish take on Popol Vuh's soundtrack for Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre- yet, of course, we have the sourer/ tone wavering edges of the notation, which adds a woozy unwell feel to proceedings.
The final track here is the just shy of forty-one minutes of "Prisma Interius VI( for V.t)- this is credited to just Lamb, and it finds her (on Viola), been joined by Chang on solo Viola , Andrea Neuman on secondary rainbow synthesizer, and Derek Shirley on Cello. Unlike the other tracks here this piece feels a lot more fragmented & episodic in it’s unfold- as we find first one pattern/ melody simmer after another, with each broken, initially by silence, then piece later the rainbow synth creates a wavering & muffled hover, and also possible road sounds/ people- but these could be created by synth. There are some effective moments throughout the track, but on the whole, I found this the least rewarding of the four tracks here.
In conclusion, the idea & the concept of Viola Torrors is most fascinating- recreating melodies from so far back in the long distant past, with in a modern composition framework. Certainly the first disc is wholly successful, while the first track on the second disc is one of the highlights here- as mentioned early I have mixed feelings about the last track- but don’t let that put you off, because if you like drone based composition with decidedly wonky/ modern composition leaning- I think you'll enjoy this double-disc set.Roger Batty