A second listen to two CDs by the ELISION ensemble – Dench, Ik(s)land[s] and Barrett, Transmission – is now up on Musical Pointers.
A thwack and a howl and Barrett’s CD begins with the startling Interference, written for clarinettist Carl Rosman. It’s almost two minutes before a clarinet is heard, though, as a literally kicking and screaming Rosman thumps pedal bass drum and sings in a terrifying falsetto (and occasional basso profundo). This opening salvo is one of the most immediately arresting passages in recent composition, and the piece – and Rosman – miraculously maintains this intensity throughout. I hesitate to say what ‘the point’ of Barrett’s music is, because to do so would be a disservice, but I would say that you have to appreciate such red-blooded ferocity in order to begin to get something out of it. If you were in an East End pub with other ‘new complexity’ (sorry) composers, his music would be the most useful if things got violent. Even a mild-mannered instrument like the vibraphone in Abglanzbeladen/ Auseinandergeschrieben sounds like it’s straining at a chain leash.