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CD Feature/ Barry Schrader: "Fallen Sparrow"

img  Tobias

The act of hearing is closely connected to different layers of meaning embedded in music. Consciously or unconsciously, our perceptive organs are looking for connections, for references – in short, for a system. Barry Schrader picks up on this when talking about “Fallen Sparrow”, a collection of four complementary compositions, each of them a collaboration with a different instrumentalist. In accordance with Leonard Meyer, he distinguishes between embodied meaning (the mutual relations between the constituent musical elements) and designative meaning (the intellectual or emotional programs of a piece). His aim, and this may distinguish him among many of his colleagues, is that however intricate the emobodied meaning may be and how cleverly or skilfully its themes may have been constructed, “the music must stand on its own apart from these technical and compositional considerations.” The underlying “theoretical”  quality is, however, closely connected to the programmatic and emotive values – and Schrader uses it to open up different spaces of appreciation.

Which means that it is not necessary to be a musicologist in order to get something out of this album but it definitely enriches the experience. There are references and tributes abound and not all of them are as obvious as the piece by the name of “Ravel” – even though, of course, this work lends itself nicely to such investigations, thanks to its allusions to the French composer’s “Le tombeau de Couperin”, the “Piano Concerto in G”, “La Valse” and “Daphnis et Chloe”. On most occasions, the embodied meaning takes the form of self-reference, of a motive serving as s source for variations, transcriptions and for binding the separate tracks on the CD together:

Very subtly, but quite purposely, all of the tracks here relate to each another. Designative meanings are prominent on the title piece (a dark fantasy for electronics and violin, based on discovering the nest of a dead bird ) as well as the opening “Love, in Memoriam”. The latter piece is made up of three Lieder for discrete synthesizer arrangements and Frank Royon Le Mee’s supple countertenor, touching upon the lives of Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci and Lewis Carroll with lines as unambigous as “My severed ear weighs heavy in your hands/your painful words making the days more unbearable.” There is however, a third meaning contained here and it may well be the most obvious one on a first listen and without the liner notes at hand.

Already on the previous release I had the pleasure to review (“EAM”), Barry Schrader discussed his interest in timbre as a factor of musical development. On “Fallen Sparrow”, it has very much attained that status. Sound as such has become both a driving force as well as a source of meaning in itself: It accompanies the lyrics with precise strokes on “Love, In Memoriam”, provides sharp contrasts with the lyrically organic lines of the clarinet on “Five Arabesques” and charges between complimentary emulation and direct opposition in “Ravel”. On “Fallen Sparrow” (the piece), meanwhile, the embodied, designative and timbral meaning come together in perfect unison, the violin melody moves from agitated death cries to warm acceptance as the work deals with the four final stages of the bird’s life and the sounds fill in the unspoken gaps, the metaphysical implications, the silence.

Just as much as there are musical themes envelopping the entire record, the sound world Schrader has created is tightly defined and recognisable. It certainly had to be with regards to the symbiosis between organic and electronic instruments in all the tracks contained here. This last point opens up another angle from which to regard “Fallen Sparrow”, namely as a destillation of highly personal human relationships, of finding the right partner for a music which requires experience, expertise and a pronounced sensitivity for the nuances that lie in playing with an “invisible orchestra”. “Through all of this journey”, Schrader concludes in the booklet, “there is a variety of musical means and intent that I hope will keep the listener engaged.” He might just as well have written: A variety of musical meanings.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Barry Schrader
Homepage: Innova Recordings

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