Sunday, December 11, 2016

Areon Flutes Make their Recording Debut on the Innova Label

Areon Flutes is the trio of Jill Heinke Moen, Kassey Plaha, and Sasha Launer, all of whom are alumnae of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The group is now in its twelfth year and the breadth of their instrumentation extends far beyond the usual C flute. Most of their recitals tend to add alto flute, bass flute, and/or piccolo to the mix; and both ocarina and slide whistle have also made appearances. As might be guessed, their repertoire depends heavily on the efforts of living composers.

About a month ago Innova released Areon’s first album, entitled Thrive. (Actually, the way it appears in the cover is “T H R ||| V E;” let’s be accurate where names are concerned!) The album consists of three contributions to that repertoire. Elainie Lillios was the winner of the group’s 2014 International Composition Competition; and her Summer Sketches is a suite in two movements, each of which amounts to a musical interpretation of a haiku by Wally Swift. The other two selections on the album were composed through Areon commissions. The longer of these is Cornelius Boots’ three-movement Chthonic Suite; and the other is the single-movement “Uncanny Valley” by Mike Sempert.

Since all of these compositions are relatively new, curious readers need to know that they will find more information about these pieces on the Web page for this recording than they will find in the accompanying booklet. (Indeed, the artwork in that booklet was so poorly conceived that many may find it impossible to read the names of the three trio members.) This is more than a little unfortunate, since even the most sympathetic listener will probably want to know that there is more to this album than the broad range of the sonorities of Areon’s instruments.

In this regard the Boots’ suite is likely to be the most frustrating. For those who did not stumble over it in Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet, the adjective “chthonic” basically pertains to the underworld; and that connotation is probably most evident in the deep bass sounds (and somewhat offbeat overtones … if your reproduction equipment is any good) of the opening movement, “Root of Ether.” However, Boots is determined to keep the listener on his/her toes by titling the second movement “Enantiodromia.” This word comes from the Greek, where it means running in opposite directions. According to the Web page maintained by the Oxford University Press, the word itself denotes the “tendency of things to change into their opposites.” This seems to refer to the back-and-forth exchange between stasis and hyperactivity; but that observation may just be my own hypothesis. The final movement is entitled “Void of Day;” and I have not yet puzzled out how that relates to the music.

Far more “listener friendly” is the inclusion of the haiku texts in the track listing for the two movements of Lillios’ suite. Both are basically about insects, and the music itself serves up an intriguing blend of denotation and connotation. The Amazon text for Sempert’s piece, on the other hand, describes it as “a glimpse into a future world of artificial intelligence and the struggle between synthetic and organic minds.” There are definitely synthesized sounds in this piece, but it is unclear whether they come from electronic processing of flutes or from electronic tracks against with the trio members play.

Fortunately, there is more to the music of both Boots and Sempert than pretentious jargon-mongering. Nevertheless, it may be that the primary virtue of this album is that “broad range of sonorities” or, more specifically, the virtuoso skills of the three performers in creating and managing those sonorities. Perhaps it is just as well that explanation is in short supply and that the attentive listener can simply groove on the auditory stimuli without worrying about any excess baggage.

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