A Review of the album “effluve ana moontense” by Jacob A. Barton
Jacob Barton’s engaging new album consists of 3 tracks, a bonus track, and scores and midi files which allow the listener to delve deeply into the works, introducing a pedagogical aspect. The addition of the pedagogical materials is a reflection of the composer’s desire to make microtonal music and composition accessible to others beyond the more generalized technical notes found on many microtonal albums. Of course, besides a teaching tool, “effluve ana moontense” stands on its own as a worthy work of art.
The first track is called Foum, and is a set of variations. Considering the mad microtonal and stylistic variety within these variations on a theme of Mozart K.1, no. 5), I find the title appropriate. While the mp3 piano version is definitive for listening, the included re-tuned midi files give the curious listener added information about the tuning system that any particular variation uses. The following is a running commentary (timestamps to refer to moments in the mp3 file):
- 12 equal: This is the original Mozart quote used as the basis of the variations.
- 13 equal: This variation is closest to the original in style, although, the oddness of 13 equal immediately following the 12 equal version, and the intentional twisting of the lines towards the end create a feeling of "madness". At one point (between 1:11 and 1:16) there is a definite Ives-vian feel which repeats on the fade out.
- 14 equal: This variation gives the impression of a Dali painting with "melted" subjects, as the timing of the lines are flexibly bent with rhythmic counterpoint techniques. This tuning sounds “normal” compared to the 13 equal just preceding it, creating an interesting contrast.
- 15 equal: This is my favorite variation. The slower tempo and near-just-intonation harmonies create a satisfying "growl"; becoming a wonderful "bedrock" for some very imaginative high register right hand figures that for me evoked vivid images of seagulls dipping in from the sky and landing on a pier – especially at 3:36.
- 16 equal: What I find most impressive about this variation is how it makes 16 equal sound so "normal" when applied to the rag time and boogie-woogie genres. The part-writing is a tour-de-force, and the performance has a very "live" feel.
- 17 equal: This variation is also a favorite, full of emotional depth. I do advise caution on midi playback because the large number of simultaneous notes may make the pitch bend technique audible as tiny "slides".
- 18 equal: This variation is very unexpected and enjoyable stylistic turn towards romanticism, sounding like "Chopin’s ghost".
- 19 equal: The last variation sounds is delightful, and sounds to me like Mozart through the lens of a humorous Gershwin.
Overall, what I take away from this series of variations is that while there are characteristics inherent in each tuning system, it is also possible for the composer to use the pitch material presented in another tuning to write in any genre, and with similar depth and breadth of expression as found in the 12 equal repertoire. That is to say: 12 equal does not have a monopoly of rich expressive capability! The variations point to possibilities of what can be achieved beyond the standard 12 equal system.
The second work on the album is the excellent Fonala – the title of which, according to the composer, is a transposition of Urbana – the city in which he presently resides. Another interesting aspect to the work is that the lyrics were left as a voice mail to Jacob from the lyricist Troy Suben, who was calling from Denver. This piece is composed in the style of an early to mid-twentieth century advent garde art song. The score indicates that it can be performed with the help of piano tuner, two pianos, and singer. The harmonies in the piano part sometimes take on a “just intonation growl” like at circa 1:15, which opens a tremendous space that supports the singer beautifully. There is a great deal of expression in the music, even beyond the extremely specific directions given to the vocal part. Overall, this is my favorite composition of the album.
The album closes with the work Eighty-one Ninth chords. Given that I took the title literally, I was not expecting the surprising way that the composition grabbed me, bringing me to a new appreciation of the power of dealing creatively with simple material. 3 minutes into the piece, when the pace quickens, a new direction emerges. As the piece develops, it grows in power and ability to engage the listener. By the time it ended, I found myself hitting “repeat”.
The bonus material, Fonala (minus one) is the piano part only for the art song, allowing the listener to concentrate on the lovely harmonies and nuances of the piano. Indeed, it works as a stand-alone composition and, according to the composer, it is also there to allow practice of the vocal part, without the need for either re-tuned pianos or skilled pianists.
In conclusion “effluve ana moontense” is a highly recommended listening, and an excellent learning experience. The album available here: http://jacobbarton.bandcamp.com/
Reviewed by Chris Vaisvil on 4/10/2012