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Catherine Lamb - Aggregate Forms [Kairos Music - 2021]

Aggregate Forms is a double CD set bringing together two searing -to- droning works from American modern classical composer/ violinist Catherine Lamb. The two lengthy works featured here are for two Violins, viola, and cello.
 

Appearing on Vienna’s Kairos Music, the two CDs are presented in the labels house-style digipak, which features a stuck-on glossy booklet. The design of the dull laminated pack features a grey, black, red, and white colour scheme- with the front cover featuring a detailed and squibbed composition plan, set against a ghost-shaped backdrop. The thirty-seven-page booklet in the centre of the pack- features colour pictures of the composer and the JACK Quartet, as well as composition diagrams, and English/ German texts- discussing the pieces here, and giving bios for both the composer and the players here. All in all a nicely arty and sleek bit of packaging.
 
First up on disc one we have "String Quartet( Two Blooms)", this was composed in 2009, with this playing of it running 46.45. The track opens with the rapidly fading-in weight of non-harmonic string drone- this is both pressing and feels almost physical in its presence. As we progress to the third minute it feels like the drone is both doubling up, yet at the same time becoming more rapid in its patterns- but just as you think the whole thing is going to go completely amassed in its pressing presence- we get sudden faulting, and then break. From here on the similar tone ranged and often buzzingly sustained drones move between being layered/ pressing, and faulting/ breaking. This instead of easing back the piece's tension seems to intensify things more, as one really does start to get lost in the stop/ start flow of the piece.  At points, the drone feels almost horn-like in its buzzing ‘n’ pressing presence, and at others, it sounds seared and stretched as only a stringed instrument can.  When one thinks of a formal/ traditional string quartet works the focus is often on creating lush, graceful and pleasing music- but Lamb's take on the form goes in the complete opposite direction. Though oddly there is something decidedly compelling about this piece, and when the right mood strikes me again I can definitely see myself reaching for "String Quartet (Two Blooms)".
 
Taking up the next twenty-three and a half minutes of  Cd one is parts I-VI of "Division Spirals" which was composed in 2019. Each of the parts on this disc run between three and eight minutes. The sound here is all about simmer,  often sour blend of droning pitches- at points, there is a most hopeful and sun-bright edge to the piece's flow, but this is largely seared, soured and glum trip into drone matter.
 
Over on disc two, we have the remaining nine tracks from "Division Spirals"- which altogether presents us with seventy-six and half minutes of music. Length wise we have tracks that run between the three and twelve-minute mark.  These parts once again focus on the wavering/ shrill sound pallet- though there are some interesting moments of almost felt harmonics, or sadly sombre-ness occurring. Though equally we do get some nicely unbalancing pitch drifts/ glides occurring too.  Over the tracks, we do get a shift in tone- going from the high and seared, onto glumly simmering mids, and doomily droning lows.
 
For those who enjoy sonically swimming in the more pressingly weighty, to wavering and shrill side of modern classical-inspired drone matter Aggregate Forms will most certainly appeal. And Kairos really have done a lovely job with the release's sleek, yet arty look.

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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