In a Landscape
Victoria Jordanova's new album is driven by two impulses. Both are highly creative: the first comes from the very fiber of her being as an artist who both composes and performs; the second from her taste as a curator of new music, a taste formed by that very creative activity. In the first case, Jordanova defies categories. She is a virtuoso harpist, but she has never been content to take the standard route associated with her instrument. A variety of types of harps are used, referencing different traditions of performance. Technologies of many different stripes come into play from piece to piece. In short, the harp is not the end for Jordanova, only a means to a far larger field of play. And of course she is a composer. And not only is her creative voice on display in the two works of her own in this collection, it is also clearly there in the presentation of the other works. For the Cox pieces, the composer and harpist have collaborated by arranging music originally written for piano. The Cage is in fact a "multiplication" of a work usually known as the sparest sort of setting. And the Rochberg is subtly shaped by it's encounter with technology, to bring out new shadings of color and depth. As for the second, her "curating" of this program, she shows great sensitivity to the mix of the music. One work is by a peer she admires, two by now historic twentieth century American masters, two by herself. And the works of course show great range. Cox's two pieces are lyrical and rigorous at once, suggesting an intersection between modernist formalism and minimalist process. The Cage is a languid gem from his early period. The Rochberg is one of the monuments of the contemporary harp literature, a mix of the modern and the romantic, a feast of expressive moments, like facets of a diamond viewed as it rotates. And Jordanova's own music completely reimagines the instrument, taking it into realms of rich texture and layering previously unheard. The title of this disc, from the Cage, is more than just a convenient label. The whole concept of the program is that of landscape. This very concept comes with a double meaning. All of the works on this disc suggest relations to nature, outdoor space, the realm of the earth. But also, each work itself is an environment, a space where music can unfold, not encumbered by the usual demands of "straight-line" narrative development. This is music that we enter into, that we can inhabit as listeners. We are not driven to follow a single line, either internally or at the demand of the composer. Rather we are allowed a space for contemplation, and the discovery of beauty. Cindy Cox's two pieces are written for electric celtic harp (which provides an especially clear and bright sound, completely in keeping with the music). The first, The blackbird whistling/Or just after (2006), features rippling arpeggios whose harmonic content is derived from the overtone series. The result is fresh and natural, yet also one senses a strong structure behind the surface. Hierosgamaos IV (2005) is a much more meditative work. A repeated E tolls in the middle register, against which one hears wisps of melody, and small sparkling outbursts. John Cage's In A Landscape (1948) is best known as an extremely simple and lyric single melody, played on piano or harp. Jordanova has taken this source and elaborated it by multitracking it upon itself three times, using pedal harp with contact microphone. The resultant heterophonic canon now suggests something quite different from the original. Instead of a single object--the tune--in a vast resonant landscape, we have instead the object-through it's multiplication-becoming the landscape itself. One sees the tune in echoes of itself, receding into the distance, towards the horizon. George Rochberg's Ukiyo-E (Pictures from the Floating World) (1976), is a sort of kaleidoscope or mobile, a series of gorgeous moments which alternate and cycle from one to the next, creating a dreamy space for contemplation and sensuous delight. Not only Asian, but Mahleresque and impressionistic tropes meander through the sound's frame. Jordanova has arranged the settings of her processing so as to bring out a far greater variety of colors than one usually hears in the piece. And the gentle swoosh of the amplification's gating even seems to create a blossom that opens and closes on each musical moment. Jordanova's own music shows her deep understanding of her own instrument, through her ability to use unusual performance techniques for specific sonic goals. Thus in the 2005 Secret Life of Bees, scored for 6 electro acoustic harps and premiered at The 9th World Harp Congress in Ireland, performs it herself via multi-tracking. The first movement, "Swarm", is an essay in the classic "murmuring" technique of bisbigliando. The result is delicate and unnerving at the same, just the like natural model which is it's inspiration. The second, "Beehive", creates a drone background for gentle scraping sounds and harmonics, using an electric toothbrush! The effect is like something completely electronic, though of course the source is her touch on her instrument. And the final movement, "Go to Work", is a concise essay in slyly mechanical ostinatos of many different kind of harmonics. For her 2005 Three Meditations (for two amplified acoustic pedal harps), Jordanova creates her own "floating world". This work comes in part from her experience of making a realization of Cage's Postcard from Heaven, featured on the first ArpaViva release. Pentatonic pitch sets give the framework for a space in which sounds blossom, recede, and evaporate, constantly replaced by new events that float to the surface like bubbles in a pond. A last personal note: I am writing these notes while living in Tokyo for three months. Jordanova's music has accompanied me over the city on my iPod, creating a soundtrack for one of the most stimulating and chaotic of postmodern urban environments. And the contrast of my current landscape with her series of imaginary ones has created a special space for me, one that opens up contemplation even in seeming chaos.