In the cover story of Musicworks 122, Nick Storring addressed the “beautifully puzzling” quality of Allison Cameron’s work, illuminating her music-making through its informed acceptance of her elusiveness and its grasp of her fascination with sound. Somatic Refrain (1996), which opens and lends its name to this new release, is a bass clarinet solo. Developed originally as a vehicle for Ronda Rindone’s multiphonic virtuosity, it is performed here with comparable rigour and resourcefulness by London-based Canadian reedist Heather Roche. This is bold programming, announcing at the outset that to step into Cameron’s soundworld is to enter a domain where the map and compass of convention have been discarded in favour of idiosyncratic and intuitive artistry.
Roche and her associates in the ensemble Apartment House thrive on such terrain. On Pliny (2005), scored for clarinet, flute, cello, violin, piano, and vibraphone, the group alternates teasing stretches of silence with spells of efflorescence until, eventually, a vibrant bed of contrasting colours, shapes, and textures is established. Cameron, equipped with acolyte bells and toy piano, joins them to revisit Retablo (1998), dedicated to her teacher Rudolf Komorous. A melodic contour is tentatively sketched, then more assertively figured, then reduced to a trail of sonic dust and fragments. Memory, it suggests, is a brittle thread of distracted reflection. Also featured is a remix of H, weirdly dislocated folk music recorded in Toronto in 2009 with guitarists Eric Chenaux and Stephen Parkinson. It too embodies the essential paradox of Cameron’s work: the more cryptic the puzzle, the more palpable its beauty.