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Eva-Maria Houben - Together On The Way [Another Timbre - 2022]

Together on the way is a single sixty-seven-minute work that's all about glum tension and grim unease. The works for pipe organ, piano, percussion- and over its lengthy runtime the work keeps you locked inside its taunt-yet-bleak grips.

The release appears as a CD on Sheffield based Another Timbre- which focuses on releasing the most rewarding & creative with both the modern classical and modern composition genres. The disc comes presented in the label’s sparse white mini gatefold packaging, and on its front cover, we have a picture of a pole constructed from dead plants, junk, and a steel pipe- this is set against a backdrop of either uninformed snow or body of water. 

Eva-Maria Houben is a German composer, organist, and pannist- she is also a musicologist and university lecturer. She has been both composing and performing work for thirty years now, as well as being a member of the respected Wandelweiser Group. And going from the piece on offer here, her work is all about creating a tense soundscape, that is stark- yet involving with its darting and often fraught textural detail.

Playing work here we have Evan-Marie on Pipe Organ, Siwan Rhys on Piano, and George Barton on Percussion. The piece is presented here as a single sixty-seven-minute track- so this and the taut yet eventful flow of the track means this is very much a work that has to be heard in a single setting. It was recorded at St Paul’s Hall, at the University of Huddersfield late last year- and as with many of Another Timbre's releases was captured by the label's owner Simon Reynell- who spent much of his life as a BBC sound recordist- so there is wonderful depth and clarity to the recording.

The piece has a fairly circular quality to it, so technically you could play it on a loop. Yes, there is a structure to the whole thing, at points, we do get subtle developments/ moments occurring. But largely it has a very floating and stark quality, with the only real constant being a wavering sustained organ note. Around this, the three-piece places grim flirts of piano, be it doomy hits, or high darts. Brooding-to-slicing percussion detail, or sudden organ note moves. The tension throughout really is tangible, and this is certainly not a piece you could drift off in- due to of course the constant simmering taut-ness, and sparse darting, at points jarring flow of elements.

Together on the way is very much a work for a quiet room, and a mind ready for a long dwell in taut and angular glumness. Certainly, a great example of sonic reserve, and controlled playing- and I’d imagine when this was performed live, there would have been a very tangible air of both apprehension and tense unease.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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