Toronto’s Thin Edge New Music Collective joins forces with Montreal’s Ensemble Paramirabo for this double-sextet album that mixes two modern classics with three new Canadian works inspired by them.
The more famous composers bookend the album. First up is Steve Reich’s palatable Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet, originally commissioned by the Chicago ensemble Eighth Blackbird and first performed alongside Bang On A Can. Reich’s trademark metronomic rhythms and subtly shifting emphases make the piece a good-natured conversation between two cities’ ensembles, a perfect soundtrack for industrious urbanity.
At the other end is Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union, a 1975 work “for any loud-sounding group of instruments.” Seemingly bridging John Cage’s generation and Reich’s, the piece works with fixed rhythm and approximate pitch. A comparison with Bang On A Can’s recording is illuminating: BOAC’s full-bodied take, from 2003, calls to mind the optimistic constructivism of 1920s Soviet cinema; Paramirabo and Thin Edge’s version is jagged and trebly, heavy on the strings. Modernity ain’t what it used to be.
In the middle are three newly commissioned pieces by Canadian composers: Patrick Giguère’s Le sel de la terre, Brian Harman’s Hum, and Anna Höstman’s Fog. All are ostensibly inspired by Reich’s and Andriessen’s pieces; but if they in fact are, it is in pretty oblique ways. None of them opt for the obvious mimicry of the pieces’ rhythmic character. In fact, they seem to take that as the machine to be raged against. Giguère’s piece invokes folk melodies and techniques in an ode to anti-consumerist lifestyles; Harman’s Hum recalls Varèse’s vexed modernism via catchy atonal leitmotifs and air-raid-siren-esque string slides; Fog, played by Paramirabo alone, mirrors Giguère’s piece’s pastoralism—the former eulogizes people outside the capitalist system, while the latter evokes the landscape they live in.
An appealing symmetry articulates Raging Against the Machine’s trajectory, subtly tracing evocative and discursive responses to the daunting present, not through retreat but through resolute creativity and supportive collaboration.