Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Immersive Music of Jordan Nobles

courtesy of Riparian Media

One week from today Redshift Records will release Jordan Nobles’ ninth full-length album, Chiaroscuro. This is the “house label” for the Redshift Music Society, founded in Vancouver in 2001 with Nobles serving as Artistic Director. As of this writing, has created a Web page for the new album; but, under current conditions, it is being distributed only through MP3 download. Nevertheless, that Web page is currently processing pre-orders. On the other hand Bandcamp has created a Web page with a “Limited Edition Compact Disc” option, as well as digital download.

In many respect this new album serves to complement the recent Capriccio release of compositions by Morton Feldman for orchestral ensemble. There are signature qualities of stillness that one encounters in the two compositions on the Feldman album, “Coptic Light” and “String Quartet and Orchestra;” and one gets the impression that Nobles has been influenced by those qualities, particularly on the title track. However, while Feldman tended to explore the interplay of individual instruments and ensemble sonorities, the instrumentation for “Chiaroscuro” goes for the transparency of a large number of individual parts. There are twenty different instrumental parts, each assigned to a single player. Many of those players, in turn, alternate among different instruments. There is also a choir and six solo vocalists, all in the soprano-alto range.

“Chiaroscuro” is coupled with “Pulses” on this album. As the title might suggest, there is a bit more energy in the instrumental parts. However, the music itself is as finely textured as “Chiaroscuro.” Nevertheless, if the textures of “Chiaroscuro” tend to invoke the “landscape” qualities of Feldman’s music, the very use of the noun “pulse” carries connotations of Terry Riley’s “In C.” However, this is no more than connotation, since Nobles’ approach to an underlying pulse does not appear to be based on a foundation of indeterminacy.

As a result, the attentive listener will probably detect qualities in both of Nobles’ compositions that reflect on the wide spectrum of inventive approaches to making music that emerged during the second half of the twentieth century. That said, if the listener is attentive enough, (s)he will never confuse Nobles’ compositional techniques with any of those sources. My only concern is that the “information content” of his scores is too high to be given a fair account through any recorded media. According to his Wikipedia page, Nobles’ takes an immersive approach to the performance of his music, having the performers surround the audience is large spaces that facilitate reverberation. At best this new album can allow the curious listener to appreciate the nuts and bolts of the syntax, semantics, and rhetoric behind the score pages; but one can only do justice to listening through the physical presence of the performers.

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