Reviews resurrected: Roland Dahinden: flying white (mode)

First of an occasional series of posts resurrecting reviews of mine that were originally published in print, but have long been inaccessible.

This one appeared in the now-defunct New Notes, in November 2007.

Roland Dahinden: flying white
Klangforum Wien String Quartet
mode 175

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‘Monochromatic’ is the sort of word one might frequently encounter in relation to Dahinden’s music, but it might also mislead. Musically, colourlessness suggests a featureless music that is simple to apprehend and unrewarding to return to, superficial and dreary as a whitewashed wall. But this hardly describes the four quartets recorded here, which are monochromatic in the way that all the leaves in a forest are. To compare either to a flat colourless surface is to ignore any number of other possible and imaginary dimensions. It doesn’t take much listening to realise that there is almost too much to take in, not only in one go, but also in many hearings.

Visual comparisons are easy to make, and Dahinden himself is interested in music’s intersection with the visual arts. But it’s equally easy to overlook the real, musical qualities given to us in favour of compromised metaphors. Because the least interesting aspect of Dahinden’s music is how it might recall Rauschenberg’s White Paintings when, in fact, it explores dimensions – across time, into sound, up and down register – uniquely available to it.

All four quartets are even in dynamic (quiet) and tempo (slow), and unfold a series of short gestures, related to one another and separated by silences; one thinks of late Cage and Feldman, possibly Nono. The strict compression of certain musical parameters forces attention elsewhere – primarily pitch and timbre – but even here Dahinden has carefully limited his options (the most immediately apparent difference between the quartets is the different pitch gamuts they employ). Within this tight envelope remains a range of possibilities regarding the disposition of notes in time, register and across the harmonic spectrum. What emerges is a search for the most brittle sounds; a tiny, imaginary realm between pitch, harmony and noise that deserves the evocative titles Dahinden gives his pieces. Attaching programmes to such music may be a fool’s game, but with familiarity one hears the different moods of each piece – mond see as slow and luminous, poids de l’ombre as intense and nervous – and can create aural–textual–visual connections of one’s own. Sensibly, Dahinden leaves it at that and lets the sounds alone speak for themselves.

Tracks: Roland Dahinden: String Quartet No.2 ‘mind rock’, String Quartet No.4 ‘flying white’, String Quartet No.5 ‘poids de l’ombre’, String Quartet No.3 ‘mond see’

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