Butterfly Modernism: Chamber Music by Eve Duncan

Silo String Quartet, Speak Percussion, other artists
Classical, New Music
2 CDs, Move MD 3362
Reviewed by , September 1st, 2014

The third collection of chamber works of Eve Duncan, this double CD features works mostly written within the last ten years and demonstrating a new style of composition for the composer.

Almost all of the works in the collection have at least one string instrument. Many of the works in the collection are performed by the Silo String Quartet with additional featured solo instruments (piano, trombone, voice).

Extra-musical factors dominate the composition process, with influence drawn from architectural designs, landscapes, photographs, philosophical, political and ecological issues …in the development of this new approach, Duncan’s implementation of process often results in short sparse gestures punctuated by empty space, often without obvious repetition or development. This style contrasts markedly with that of her first two CD collections and, indeed, the couple of earlier pieces on this CD, with their longer connected phrases and quasi-modal constraints.

Composer Eve Duncan

Composer Eve Duncan

An enduring influence for Duncan has been the music of eastern Asia, and while the influence is less obvious here than in her earlier recorded works, it could be said that the aesthetic of eastern Asian music informs her use of gesture in this newer style. The influence is most obvious in the piece The Titans, written for flute, viola and Korean zither (the gayageum) with its emphatic use of pentatonicism. The sound of the gayageum is intriguing —darker than either the Japanese koto or the Chinese guzheng.

Similarly interesting is the piece Dredge, for percussion quartet, written as a collaboration with photographer Siri Hayes. Performed by Speak Percussion, the two movements contrast each other in their instrumentation, with the pure sounds of bells and gongs against the sounds of fishing sinkers, shells, bottles and steel drums. The piece serves as an environmental comment on the dredging of Port Phillip Bay, but also as an allegory for the uncovering of layers.

Her Four Blackboard Pieces, for piano quintet, performed by Danae Killian with the Silo String Quartet, are musical responses to two blackboard drawings made by Austrian education theorist and philosopher Rudolph Steiner. The four movements create contrasting textures from different sections of the blackboard drawings, responding to the use of colour and visual texture in the drawings.

Silo String Quartet

Silo String Quartet

A combination of live and studio recordings made in a number of different locations with many different performers, the recording quality is highly variable. Some tracks exhibit problems of balance and stereo imaging. With many different performers involved and some with the added pressure of live recording, performances are also variable.

While a large collection such as this double CD documents and makes available a significant number of works, to include recordings of inconsistent quality can be counterproductive. This is certainly an interesting collection of pieces demonstrating Eve Duncan’s current compositional strategies in chamber music.

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