Berlin and Amsterdam-based ensemble’s orchestral suite, co-composed by Battles’ Tyondai Braxton, Factory Floor’s Nik Colk Void and Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, shines with an experimental series of collaborations
‘New Music’ is hardly the first genre to have an awkward or arbitrary name, but in this instance the label’s deliberate ambiguity speaks to a problem at its heart – how do instruments from a time before recording technology was invented mark out a distinctive, contemporary role that goes beyond accompanying modern music? European collective s t a r g a z e provide an answer in the form of their latest work, in which orchestral elements are composed and arranged by a range of musicians from electronic and rock backgrounds. The results are surprisingly coherent.
Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier brings close harmonies and consonant melodies to Metaphor, with any schmaltz undercut by unexpected dissonance or wacky progressions. There is an especially ponderous quality to the final minute, as stepwise piano chords are backed by growling double bass in a sequence worthy of MC Escher. The pace picks up on Voicecream, a highlight of the work featuring spritely triplets, insistent cross-rhythms and a whisper-soft 4×4 beat creeping in near the end to ground all the syncopation around it. Arone Dyer displays a knack for this type of composition, particularly in his use of string glissandos which fall perfectly into place each time.
The following track Vacancy could be identified as Tyondai Braxton’s doing from a mile off, with periods of silence punctuated by nasal synth pads, enigmatic motifs and scuttling percussion. The chromatic bass line that sits under the final flute flourishes is pretty gnarly, but these disparate sounds are missing a thread that unites them and thus it comes across as filler. Recollection Pulse #3 sees Factory Floor’s Nik Colk Void deploy repeated rhythms to Steve Reichian effect, ominous cello notes and wisful woodwind (among other increasingly intense elements) piling on top of the bashing, hissing loop to make a striking crescendo, a joyful noise.
Descend, which wraps up the One project, is more of an in-house affair, with s t a r g a z e member Aart Strootman composing a rather morose finale with light tinkling in the background, perhaps a milk bottle being gently dragged along an uneven surface. The track may be less eventful than what has preceded it, but the long, droning performances of the ensemble are evocative nonetheless and ring out in a way that no plug-in could ever exactly replicate – a fitting end to this successful stylistic fusion.