Although they have been playing together for a decade, A Thousand Incidents Arise is only the second recorded collaboration between bass clarinettist Anthony Burr and bass player Skuli Sverrisson, the birst being 1997's Desist, a set of austere circuit feedback abstractions.
This collection is also minimalist in its conception, but the New York duo's technical approach is radically different here, with a palette of entirely acoustic instruments. Over the course of its four track, using guitar, organ, harmonium, bass and bass clarinetm, Burr and Sverrisson work up warmly organic drones, showing how the simplest harmonic adjustments can produce whole new vistas of melody.
Swimming in a bath of amber bass tones fo 16 minutes, "Change is Far More Radical Than We Are at First Inclined to Believe" changes the least of any of the piece. "The Divine Principle as a Sphere Turning on Itself" starst from a simlar space, with each organ note succeeding and receding into the next in a series of glowing dissolbes that feel like they could go on forever, until bright, diamond-hard tones leap out after ten minutes. During both tracks you feel like something significant is about to happen at any moment, only to realise in hindsight that plenty already has. By contrast "We Shall be Sure of Not Going Astray" feels less improvised, its surfaces broken up with brief washes of acoustic guitar over plangent, unhurried electric chords.
The duo's attention to texture and surface are key here, with the recording's warmth countering the cerebral element to the music. A Thousand Incidents Arise makes equal sense played at the threshold of audibility so that it simply tints the air, or at high volume so that the throaty humming of the harmonium and clarinet tones take on the physical presence found in the work of forebears like Terry Riley or Tony Conrad.
february 7th 2006
When two heavyweights like reedsman Anthony Burr and bassist Skuli Sverrisson go at it, one would expect music of earthshaking gravitas. Collectively, they have added their voices to the music of such new music auteurs as Jim O’Rourke, John Zorn, Jim Black, Laurie Anderson, Johann Johannsson, Morton Feldman, LaMonte Young and more. But for the latest stop on their nearly 10-year collaborative journey, Burr and Sverrisson operate with methodical patience, producing an album in which their central concern is the tone – its length, its volume, its behavior with other tones, its birth, its death. To generate and capture their subjects they utilize bass, bass clarinet, organ, guitar, intimate microphones, some sensitive overdubbing and editing.
The four pieces here exude the measured calm of one’s breathing during a deep sleep. The opening “We shall be sure of not going astray” and the closing “Except in memory” carry the most compositional heft, as both cycle through passages of gleaming, seamless sound and oblique melodies. It is the second and third tracks in which the pair huddles most deeply within the sounds. For “Change is far more radical than we are at first inclined to suppose,” they study not the whole audio rainbow, but swim in the murky lows of Burr’s purring, rasping, and whispering bass clarinet, never sticking their head above the greenish-blue mid-range. Some tones resound cleanly, some brush past each other, fluttering more intensely as they draw close, some do nothing more than vibrate.
On the “Divine principle as a sphere turning on itself,” the pervasive voice of an organ fills the space, its entire range mobilized in long steadfast notes. The dynamic here is not attack, resonate and decay, but coming, arriving and going, akin to theDoppler effect. Both pieces have extended playing times (the second goes for 16 minutes, the third stretches to 20) but interest only grows with each passing cluster of tones. The beauty lies not in the tones themselves, but in how they interact.
None of this, though, comes off as academic. Their approach reveals the illusory gap between the objective gaze of the scientist researching phenomena and the obsessive eye of the painter studying light. If one considers these pieces to be studies in tone relationships, then they exist only as sketches, thoroughly conceptualized yet spontaneous and organic. Where most see only a tundra of unbroken white, Burr and Sverrisson see a thousand shades, each one subtle, unique and gripping.
Other Music Update
November 9th 2005
Although Anthony Burr and Skuli Sverrisson have been performing together for the better part of a decade, until now their recorded output has been limited to one long-out-of-print CD that was released by the Staalplaat label in 1997. Individually, Burr and Sverrisson have shared stages and recorded with some of the biggest names in experimental music, including John Zorn, Alvin Lucier, Jim O'Rourke, La Monte Young, and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Using acoustic instruments and only the subtlest of electronic effects, this duo has created some of the finest minimal music I've heard so far in 2005. Their compositions are long, loosely structured, warm and atmospheric. The four tracks on A Thousand Incidents Arise are constructed over layers of Burr's sustained bass clarinet drones, with bowed upright bass, acoustic guitar, organ, and other less easily identifiable instruments adding harmonic counterpoint and filling out the sonic spectrum in the middle and upper ranges. Johann Johannsson's Virthulegu Forsetar, Nils Okland's Bris, and the self-titled album by Mountains are among the comparable recent releases that immediately sprang to mind when I began listening to this. A Thousand Incidents Arise is at least as accomplished and satisfying as the aforementioned records, so if you loved any of those I would definitely recommend picking up this disc too.
The beautiful unfurling of organic acoustic sounds on A Thousand Incidents Arise testifies to the simpatico relationship Anthony Burr and Skuli Sverrisson have developed after a decade of collaborating. The two come from radically different backgrounds—originally hailing from Reykjavik, Iceland, Sverrisson is now regarded as one of the Lower East Side's premiere bass players while Burr (originally from Melbourne, Australia) is considered one of the world's foremost bass clarinetists in the contemporary classical milieu—yet demonstrate a unity of purpose in the 48-minute album's four pieces. It's not their first release, however; Desist, a more austere recording of stark minimal electronics was issued on Fire Inc./ Staalplaat in 1999, and the duo subsequently delved even further into computer music before acoustic elements began to re-appear.
The wholly acoustic A Thousand Incidents Arise evidences a preoccupation with stasis and minute timbral shifts. Yet while a static quality does permeate the pieces, the degree of development and dynamic contrast that emerges declassifies the material as drones proper. The outer settings include traces of conventional compositional elements, while the inner two are more meditative. Still, even characterizing them in this manner is distorting, as all four intermittently gravitate between drones and conventional song structures.
With peaceful organ tones joined by gentle guitar strums and soft clarinet playing, “We Shall Be Sure of Not Going Astray” initiates the album in lovely manner. The piece develops at a natural pace, with stately clusters of organ and clarinet tones booming like muffled foghorns as the guitar navigates gentle paths. In “Change is Far More Radical than We Are at First Inclined to Believe,” overlapping layers of bass clarinet and bowed tones emerge and disappear, the effect meditative, the music's rhythms less metronomic than suggestive of breathing. “The Divine Principle as a Sphere Turning on Itself” is even dreamier, with surging timbres of organ splashes offset by the low croak of the bass clarinet; gradually, the organ recedes, laying bare a skeletal armature of clarinet and bowed string tones. Collectively, the music exudes a strong transcendental flavour (song titles alone suggest as much), not to mention a rather hymnal quality that thankfully never turns precious.
If you want similarly minimalistic drones but of a more melodic kind proceed directly to Anthony Burr and Skúli Sverrisson’s finely polished sound sculptures that beautifully float like mist over a faintly lit city park late at night. There’s a temporary sense of isolation in time and place present here that helps these minimally structured chords and cyclic melodies construct vast and spatial dreamscapes without any external interference what so ever. This duo manages to blend dark and rumbling drones with simple melodies smeared into washes of minimal shimmer and if I’d have to choose only one of the three items described in this review I would probably go for this one. I think you know what that means.
Following on from the debut release from (Sigur-Ros string section) Amina, and the recent new album from Johann Johannson, this intriguing label delivers its third, and most moving release to date. Anthony Burr and Skuli Sverrisson have a collective CV which would have the average leftfield musician choking with envy and getting jiggy with the hyperbole as they tried to plump it out and challenge a list which includes Jim O'Rouke, John Zorn, David Sylvian, La Monte Young and Ryuichi Sakomoto to name but a scant few. Having first come together a little over ten years ago, Burr (bass clarinet) and Sverrisson (bass player) took to each other immediately and have plumbed an increasingly minimal electronic well for inspiration ever since. Yet whilst the digital obsession produced some friable results (notably 1997's circuit-feedback release), Burr and Sverrisson seem to have rediscovered their roots with 'A Thousand Incidents Arise' featuring just as much deeply wrought instrumentation as it does static tickled excursions. All extended pieces, the likes of 'We Shall Be Sure of Not Going Astray' and 'Except in Memory' have overt song structures in their shrouded elegance, whilst elsewhere 'Change Is Far More Radical Than We Are First Inclined to Suppose' reveals a love of drone amongst the stirring bass creased bedrock. Anything but incidental.