Nate Wooley & Carol Robinson — Images via bodhidog.wordpress.com

Nate Wooley & Carol Robinson

Music by Éliane Radigue & Denis Dufour
Crow With No Mouth Concert Series

Composer Éliane Radigue is best known for her long, slowly unfolding drone works for analog synthesizer, epitomized by the massive triptychs Adnos I-III (1974-82) and Trilogie de la Mort (1988-93). For the past decade, however, Radigue has been composing primarily for acoustic instruments, adapting her aesthetic and methods to create works that can be realized by live musicians. Her current project, Occam, consists of a series of relatively short solo and small-ensemble pieces devised in collaboration with their performers, and on Saturday, trumpeter Nate Wooley and clarinetist Carol Robinson gave the Twin Cities premieres of three of these pieces at Studio Z in Saint Paul as part of the Crow With No Mouth concert series.

Two the pieces presented on Saturday, Occam XVI and Occam X, were solo works, the first for Robinson on bass clarinet and the second for Wooley on trumpet with its sound modified by, at various points, a mute and a piece of sheet metal. Both pieces were essentially progressions of long phrases, each consisting of one slow exhalation of breath and each slightly different from the last. The primary impression given by both was intensely physical, focusing the listener’s attention on the act of forcing air through a narrow column of wood or brass. Occam XVI in particular was extremely subtle, rising from an almost impossibly quiet start to gently immersive waves of sound, while the highlight of Occam X was a long coda in which Wooley used circular breathing to create a slowly shifting drone.

The third piece, Occam River III, was a duet, with Robinson switching to the birbynė, a traditional Lithuanian variation on the clarinet. With two players, the focus shifted from the physicality of the performance to the delicate atmosphere created by the sounds of the two instruments merging and separating. Despite the common musical material, in fact, the piece came across as completely different from its two predecessors, closer in some ways to Radigue’s characteristic sound from her electronic period.

Though the bulk of Saturday’s concert was devoted to Radigue’s music, Robinson and Wooley opened their set with a new piece by another French composer, Denis Dufour, who like Radigue is best known for his recorded works. Unlike Radigue’s drones, however, Dufour’s “acousmatic art” is closer to the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic of musique concrète. The new piece, Cinq forms d’appel, was no exception; though completely acoustic, it called to mind the sounds of sirens and car horns before settling into a more conventionally “musical,” carnivalesque finale.

As someone who has been listening to Radigue’s electronic music for years, I was looking forward to hearing her soundworld conjured by live performers, and Wooley and Robinson did not disappoint. Now in her ninth decade, Radigue has demonstrated with the Occam series that she still has something new to offer, and hopefully there will be plenty more to come. Dufour’s piece, in turn, served as a provocative introduction to a composer who I suspect was as new to most listeners as he was to me. Wooley and Robinson are currently in the midst of a nine-city tour with these pieces, and Crow With No Mouth deserves thanks for making sure Saint Paul was on the itinerary.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.