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The Mesmerising Artistry of Claire Chase

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The Mesmerising Artistry of Claire Chase
Claire Chase photograph courtesy of Claire Chase

It bears mention that uncommon care was taken to produce recordings that sound as if the performance is taking place right before you, in the space where you listen to music. On audiophile equipment this is a breathtaking experience, with Miss Chase and this exquisite music seemingly bursting out of the speakers in the room followed by music that fills the air, leaping and pirouetting, rushing and flowing interminably before disappearing in the air from whence it came. What makes the experience of this repertoire of Density 2036 so lifelike and memorable has everything to do with the production of these discs. The recordings were produced by John and Helen Meyer at Meyer Sound Laboratories in Berkeley, California [billed as “Thinking Sound”], with Matias Tarnopolsky, as the session producer and Dave Denison, recording engineer. A review without acknowledging the expertise of two wizards would be ill-advised. Such is the attention to detail that each of the two packages [expertly designed by David Khan-Giordano] also features the most extraordinary artwork by the German visual artist, Jorinde Voigt.

Claire Chase: Density 2036 [2013 – 2015] The musical edifice to honour of the 100th Anniversary of Edgard Varèse , which will arrive in 2036 is kicked off by the first of two double albums by Miss Chase. The idea for it comes from Mr Varèse’s iconic piece of music Density 21.5 which features at the end of the first of the two discs – played, by Miss Chase, as it was conceived by maestro Varèse: as a piece for solo flute. The rhythmic and melodic design of maestro Varèse’s own homage to the Archimedean density of his platinum flute is interpreted with equal parts reverence and iconoclasm becoming of both the project itself and Miss Chase’s own musical proclivities.

It’s sweeping, diaphanous fabric featuring shrill highs and lows of the instrument’s register is a perfect end to an disc that includes superb contemporary works by others including the inimitable George Lewis [“Emergence”], Marcos Balter [the haunting, gravity-defying “Pessoa”], Mario Diaz de Leon [a diabolical piece entitled “Luciform”], Du Yun [a dancing Zen-like koan called “An Empty Garlic”]. There are also two works by Felipe Lara, the first of which is the profound “Meditation and Calligraphy” in which Miss Chase wields her flute like a sorcerer, somewhat – as if you can imagine it – the master artist who inspired the piece wielded his calligraphic instrument. Lara’s other work is “Parábolas na Caverna” which unfurls in a mesmerisingly balletic performance.

The Mesmerising Artistry of Claire Chase
Claire Chase photograph by Karen Chester

Disc two begins with the rippling and tumbling of Miss Chase blowing liquid as if in torrents of various densities and viscosities, with Dai Fujikura’s 1977 piece, “Lila”, performed on concert flute and bass and contrabass flutes as well. Technology and live music collides in Francesca Verunelli’s very visual work, “The Famous Box Trick” as Miss Chase employs both bass flute and electronics in a mind-bending admixture. The poetry of emotion is melded into Nathan Davis’ mysterious “Limn” and Jason Eckhardt’s dramatic work “The Silenced” is performed with quicksilver wit and illuminating textural detail. There is a palpable sense of excitement in the anima of the incomparable Pauline Oliveros’ mystic “Intensity 21.5 Grace Chase”, not the least because of the thrilling and brilliantly mad vocalastics – using words from languages that are both real and imagined. By this time you wonder for how long you’ve been held breathless by Miss Chase’s virtuosity and invention. There is a kind of electricity to her playing here – which when coupled with the vivid and ripe tone of her instrument – eclipses anything you might have heard from any flutist in the past.

Track list – Density 2036: Parts i & ii [2013-2014] 1: Marcos Balter [b. 1974]: Pessoa [2013] for six bass flutes; 2: Mario Diaz de Leon [b. 1979]: Luciform [2013] for flute and electronics; 3: Felipe Lara [b.1974]: Meditation and Calligraphy [2014] for bass flute; 4: Felipe Lara: Parábolas na Caverna [2014] for solo flute; 5: George Lewis [b. 1952]: Emergent [2014] for flute and electronics; 6: Du Yun [b.1977]: An Empty Garlic [2013] for bass flute and electronics; 7: Edgard Varèse: Density 21.5 [1936]. Density 2036: Part iii [2015] 1: Dai Fujikura [b. 1977]: Lila for flute, bass flute and contrabass flute [2015]; 2: Francesca Verunelli [b. 1979]: The Famous Box-Trick [2015] for bass flute and electronics; 3: Nathan Davis [b. 1973]: Limn [2015] for bass/contrabass flute and electronics; 4: Jason Eckardt [b. 1971]: The Silenced [2015], a monodrama for solo flute; 5: Pauline Oliveros [1932-2016]: Intensity 21.5, Grace Chase for speaking flutist and Expanded Instrument System 21:30

Personnel – Claire Chase: flutes; Levy Lorenzo: electronics

Released – 2020
Label – Corbett vs. Dempsey [CvsD – CD076]
Disc 1 – 1:06:52 Disc 2 – 1:05:31

Claire Chase: Density 2036 [2016 – 2017] If Archimedes’ formula for calculating the formula of the density of all things is brilliantly logical to physicists its logical and mathematical – as well as magical – significance to musicians from Mr Varèse to Miss Chase is borne out in the next two discs in Miss Chase’s Density 2036 project. That word “project” seems challengingly apt for the seemingly impossible scale of the architectural dimensions of these two discs. In typical fashion, Miss Chase takes these six works [on two discs], which are a product of the musical intellect of their composers and “plays” with them, making each seem as if she experiences the black dots of music as joyfully animated, live beings to be crafted into arabesque-like fantasias, scherzi and cadenzas of interminable formless-form.

The incontrovertible mathematics of Time and Space drives all musical art it is only in the hands of a profoundly philosophical mind that the physiological ambiguities of creation can come alive and this, they certainly do throughout the repertoire of these two discs. Clearly Miss Chase exists in a state of constant wonder. It is on this rarefied plane that music – including this music – speaks to her in secret; as if in the spiritual realm of a tabula rasa. The ethereal performance featuring breathtaking, vaunted glissandos and liquid waves of music on Suzanne Farrin’s work, “The Stimulus of Loss” is an outstanding example of this as the composer joins the flutist on the theramin-like ondes Martenot. Miss Chase is joined by percussion colourist Tyshawn Sorey in joyful, yet other-worldly performance of Mr Sorey’s work, “Bertha’s Lair”. It is a work that is utterly compelling and played with vivacious elegance and with great of spirit. The flutist’s penchant for “prepared music” informs Vijay Iyer’s “Five Empty Chambers”. Processed sounds and near-inaudible tape-hiss nestles cheek-by-jowl with Miss Chase’s flutes and ocarina as we –her rapt listeners – navigate the sounds and silences of a sound world hidden to all else but the senses.

The Mesmerising Artistry of Claire Chase
Claire Chase photographed by Aram Boghosian at the ArtLab Harvard University

More of the album’s remarkable repertoire on disc one comes in the form of the dazzling work of Pauchi Sasaki, entitled “Gama XV: Piece for Two Speaker Dresses”. The ethereal concepts of the music and its performance comes from the tunefullness of every line of the contrapuntal texture, and its sheer harmonic audacity, all of which Miss Chase handles with aplomb, propelled, of course, by the speaker dresses, Sasaki’s violin and live sound by Taurin Barrera. The disc concludes with a seminal work by Richard Beaudoin. “Another Woman of Another Kind” is a chamber-like work supplied by a Beckett-like stream-of-consciousness commentary made up of Paul Griffiths’ written words and also includes the chamber ensemble Roomful of Teeth conducted by Brad Wells. Disc two is made up of an expended piece by Marcos Balter entitled “Pan”, which is, of course, based on the pastoral deity who is invoked for a myriad of reasons. The six-movement piece is based on the life of Pan, and is also a gigantic multi-dimensional musical metaphor that is as earthy as it is rarefied. Here too Miss Chase triggers music akin to an atomic reaction as her flutes collide with a unique variety of magical vocal theatre in the captivating and dramatically musical life of a god of untold mystery.

Track list – Density 2036: Part iv [2016] 1: Suzanne Farrin [b. 1976]: The Stimulus of Loss [2016] for flutes and ondes Martenot; 2: Tyshawn Sorey [b. 1980]: Bertha’s Lair [2016, rev. 2018] for flutes and percussion; 3: Vijay Iyer [b.1971]: Five Empty Chambers [2016]; 4: Pauchi Sasaki [b. 1981]: Game XV: Piece for Two Speaker Dresses [2016] for bass flute, violin, electronic live processing, vocals and two Speaker Dresses; 5: Richard Beaudoin [b. 1975]: Another Woman of Another Kind [2016] for flute and eight voices; based on texts by Paul Griffiths. Density 2036: Part v [2017] Marcos Balter [b. 1974]: Pan – for speaking/singing flutist and large ensemble [2017-18, rev. 2019] 1: Death of Pan, 2: Processional, 3: Pan’s Flute, 4: Music of the Spheres, 5: Echo, 6: Seranade, 7: Fray, 8: Soliloquy for flute, bass flute and contrabass flute [2015].

Personnel – Claire Chase: flutes; Levy Lorenzo: electronics; Taurin Barrera: electronics [Density 2036 – iv]; Suzanne Farrin: ondes Martenot [Density 2036 – iv]; Roomful of Teeth/Brad Wells: conductor [Density 2036 – iv].

Released – 2020
Label – Corbett vs. Dempsey [CvsD CD076]
Disc 3 – 58:32 Disc 4 – 47:32

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