Christopher Fox:

Christopher Foxinner
Anton Lukoszevieze – cello
Metier MSV CD92059. Duration: 72:42

1. Straight Lines in Broken Times3 (1994) [8:30]

chant suspendu (1997 - 1998) [8:16]

3. Generic Compositions #3, #4 & #5 (1999 - 2001) [10:16]

4 - 34. inner (1999 - 2001) [45:10]

Christopher Fox

This is one of four portrait CDs that Metier has put out with compositions by British composer Christopher Fox, who, for me personally, has meant the most interesting musical experience since I dug into late Stockhausen. This is the second Fox CD I listen and write through – the first one being the Ives Ensemble CD – and it seems Christopher Fox always has new ideas when he starts a new composition. This is rare. Stockhausen, indeed, is equipped with that same rage, but in most other cases, composers tend to fall back on what they’ve already accomplished, perhaps twisting it a little this way or that – or they’re so successful in what they do that it would be plain stupid not to keep it up, the most obvious example of that being Arvo Pärt, but then again, I’m quite content that he keeps on putting out those lofty, serene vocal works, that I keep collecting and spend quite a lot of time listening to!

Anton Lukoszevieze

This CD, named inner after the main work on it, is dedicated to the cello (well, the piece inner is dedicated to Anton Lukoszevieze, but you know what I mean… Lukoszevieze, by the way, leads his own famous ensemble - Apartment House - which has recorded, among many other things, a CD of Cornelius Cardew's chamber works, on Matchless Recordings)

Track 1. Straight Lines in Broken Times3 (1994) [8:30]

Christopher Fox says that
Straight Lines in Broken Times3:

[…] takes advantage of the microtonal tuning possibilities of string instruments. The predominant interval during the piece is three-quarters of a tone wide; since there are three different three-quarter tone scales possible within an equal tempered tuning system, a sort of ‘modulation’ is possible where the line can slip sideways by a quartertone or semitone onto a new scale. These modulations occur at those points where my musical lines reverse direction or repeat themselves (often accompanied by a slight change in timbral articulation too).

The playing of the cello here, by Anton Lukoszevieze, sounds more like… well, the viola da gamba, and played not as much as a cello or a viola da gamba, but more in a style in the vicinity of Malcolm Goldstein’s fiddling, when Goldstein passes through one of his rancid and sulky introverted moods (always with that quirky, ironic, humorous smile hiding in the corner of his mouth!). This line of thought brings Paolo Pandolfo’s Viola da Gamba recordings of Bach’s Cello Suites on Glossa to the CD player in pair with a few of Malcolm Goldstein’s CDs, like Hardscrabble Songs on In Situ, Goldstein Plays Goldstein Live in Bremen on Da Capo and Live at Fire in the Valley on Eremite. One thing always leads to another, to the next. FoxBach PandolfoGoldsteinFox.

Anyway, Lukoszevieze’s cello is recorded dry, chalk dust dry, and he plays the cello in that particular, vibrato-free simplicity, which – if it weren’t for the modernity of it all - sounds Renaissance, in fact like the English viol.

When you compare Lukoszevieze’s viol/cello playing with the full-blooded romantic Sturm-und-Drang renditions by the likes of Pierre Fournier, Lukoszevieze’s style is like a revelation; ascetic – thin and fire-eyed! Fantastic! It proves you don’t have to use the full register each time: a thought that is applicable on life’s many dire situations, right? It IS possible to stand back a little, and just touch the body of this magnificent instrument lightly, in full awareness of its mighty potential. This withheld might of the cello also lends some amplified significance to this Weight Watcher writing of Christopher Fox, this desert dwelling playing by Anton Lukoszevieze. I am impressed and pleased! At times the cello hardly breathes, barely whispers!
Straight Lines in Broken Times3 is spider webs across yesteryear’s leaves!

Track 2. chant suspendu (1997 – 1998) [8:16]

Fox about
chant suspendu:

In [the] first version of chant suspendu, the ‘song’, the cello part, is suspended over a rich, dark mass of sound in the piano. The cello part is written in sixth-tones, the cello sounds highlighting constantly changing clusters of overtones within the mass of the piano sound – ‘microtonal’ piano music without the inconvenience of re-tuning, but the cello also provides its own accompaniment – melodic writing on the middle strings is always supported by a drone on one of the other strings (and the outer strings are both re-tuned to Gs) – and Anton Lukoszevieze soon persuaded me that the cello part could stand as a piece in its own right. At Judith Mitchell’s [who premiered the cello part of the work with pianist Ian Pace] suggestion I also made a computer-generated accompaniment in which a particle of the piano sonority is stretched out over the duration of the piece; it is this version, which appears on this CD. Anton’s performance of the cello part was recorded in a single take.

Ah, a surprising beginning to say the least: a fiddling cellist in a serious dark rumble, be it industrial or apocalyptic à la Gustave Doré! My immediate association goes to a piece by Swedish-Hungarian composer Tamas Ungvary from 1982 – Melos III - which my toddler son called “Tamas’ dangerous music!”. He would have called this “Christopher’s dangerous music!”, I’m certain. Ungvary’s piece utilized a similar method with a stringed instrument; in his case indeed with a violin operating in a dark, ominous rumble, electronically conceived. I looked it up in my file system, and found it on one compact cassette and one DAT, so I had the pleasure of re-acquainting myself with this fearsome Ungvary tune! One aspect of Ungvary’s tune contra Fox’s works opposite, though. Ungvary’s rumble deepens and deepens, eventually shaking your windows and rattling your walls, as Bob Dylan used to have it – while Fox’s starts way down in the clay-tremors and gradually lightens.

Lukoszevieze’s cello-fiddling is remarkable, quite Goldsteinean by virtue of stubborn relentlessness and quirky damn-hood, sort of sawing its way through a moment that halts right up front, en face, staring you in the eye, claiming the NOW in all its timeless vibrancy and potential immenseness, with eternity shuddering and trembling deep down its passing millennia-broodings…

Malcolm Goldstein provided a motto for one of his earliest recordings, on an LP that he published on his own label back in 1983, regarding the piece
from Center of Rainbow, Sounding: “Go to a lonely place and rub a stone in a circle on a rock for hours and days on end.” That feels quite appropriate for Christopher Fox’s maddening influx for the duration of chant suspendu. I recommend playing this loud!

Track 3. Generic Compositions #3, #4 & #5 (1999 – 2001) [10:16]

Fox about his
Generic Compositions:

The Generic Compositions are a set of seven pieces for solo instruments, part of the ensemble installation Everything You Need To Know […]. Each of the seven Generic Compositions isolates an aspect of instrumental behavior for especial compositional attention: In Generic Composition #3 it’s the varying contact between a player’s left and right hands and the strings of plucked instruments, in Generic Composition #4 it’s changes in the direction and length of bow strokes across one, two or three strings on a bowed string instrument, and in Generic Composition #5 it’s the interrelationship of continuous pitch changes with intermittent register and tone changes in a sliding instrument. What interests me in these Generic Compositions is the extent to which instruments seem to write their own music when composers (players too?) let them.

Generic Composition #3 is scored for any plucked instrument with at least four strings, Generic Composition #4 is cored for any bowed string instrument in any tuning and is played entirely on natural harmonics, and Generic Composition #5 is scored for any sliding instrument.

The Generic Compositions can be played as solo pieces, in combination with any other parts of Everything You Need To Know, or can be superimposed one on another. On this CD Generic Compositions #3 and 5 have been collaged together with two versions of Generic Composition #4 in different tuning.

Yes! This is part of why I like the music of Christopher Fox so much; his intellectual and artistic diversity, his play with the architecture of sound, and the modular function of some of his works. These were also the aspects that got me really interested in the compositional adventures of Karlheinz Stockhausen. You don’t find this transparent complexity in many places. Stockhausen is the obvious example. His works can be extremely complex, but he never tries to hide anything, clearly defining his ideas and methods in his booklets, books and seminars, as well as in man-to-man discussions and letters. I feel baffled by the elegance and applicability of his solutions – and I also understand that they come out of very hard work and an unusual stubbornness, just as much as out of geniality. If you just put your shoulder to the load and don’t give in, who knows what lies ahead!

The mysticism that surrounds Stockhausen is kept in place by people who need that kind of mysticism. Stockhausen never nurtured those undercurrents, even though, for some obscure and less graspable reason, he maintained his personal quasi-religion for the duration of his composition cycle
Licht, which, by its banal mythology somewhat diminishes the impression of Stockhausen in the world of those who only care about things superficially – but it is very important to keep the music that he has composed and keeps composing apart from that compulsive Kuerten mythology, because, as indicated above, the compositional oeuvre of Stockhausen is outstanding. I feel sincerely touched when I think of this childish (in the best sense!) and naïve (also in the best sense) old man, who so easily feels hurt and who so often mistrusts those who get close to him and retreats into his fortress in the wooded hills outside Cologne to lick his wounds and meditate on new compositions.

Another, less obvious example of this thought-through and elegant compositional complexity is clearly observable in the – so far – very few compositions of young Swedish composer Erik Peters, whom I suspect – wish! – will become quite well known in the years to come.

This was a long round-about back to Christopher Fox, but what I wanted to establish was that Fox belongs in that distinct and choice tribe of composers who distinguish themselves by elegance, complexity, diversity, freshness and newness – who spends a lot of energy on legislative work, setting up the set of rules into which the sound will fall, after a long preparatory work, setting up the framework, the basic, bearing structure – which, as with Stockhausen, is transparent for anyone caring to spend some time investigating, looking, hearing – perceiving!

The way in which Fox arranges for these three
Generic Compositions to play out their characteristics against and with each other guarantees a pristine, original music that he probably otherwise wouldn’t have written, resulting from the ideas and sonorities of the three pieces contrasting and merging, bending sound like irregular mirrors light! In a way, he refrains from complete compositional control over the end result, whilst keeping control of all its minute parts. This, again, has been a valuable aspect of many of Stockhausen’s compositions, like, to mention just a random few, Sternklang, Kurzwellen and Momente. Again, this strengthens my thesis that a combination of improvisation and composition yields the most valuable results, allowing for that unknown factor to move in, everybody unawares, to color the music or even completely take over for a while. The discipline of pure improvisation usually keeps the music at bay, so to say – harnessing it in safe procedures, since most performers tend to fall back into traditional behavior, clichés and templates, whereas a combination of improvisation and composition – as demonstrated in many of Stockhausen’s works – forces the unknown to appear, whether you want it or not, without going as far as John Cage, who honestly tried to stand back completely from the role as composer for a considerable part of his life’s work. This is – in a way – how this recording of Generic Compositions #3, #4 & #5 functions, even though, principally speaking, the aspect of improvisation is not real here, since all the parts of the recording are fully scored and notated (I suppose?), entrusting the unknown factor to appear because of unforeseen (or it doesn’t really matter if they’re calculated!) results of the combinations of these parts.

One would perhaps think of instruments from different families here, or at least different instruments – but in this recording of Generic Compositions #3, #4 & #5 it’s Anton Lukoszevieze’s cello all through, recorded four times and then played back with himself, superimposed. It’s four times, because there are two versions of Generic Composition #4 included.

What we hear, then, is a string quartet! Yes, a string quartet made up of four celli, and, in fact, the same cello.

It’s quite fascinating and very pleasant to hear these differing playing techniques in this layered simultaneity. The sound and all its temporal characteristics, concerning timbre, pitch, rhythm, glissandi and so forth, make a very rich impression.

Beginning on high, straight, signaling tones, glissandi soon appear below like flying flags in the wind, while even deeper glissandi below bellow like cows home on the farm. The music gets denser, sort of reaching for that tutti that an orchestra might reach in the final moments of tuning before a concert.

The plucked sections appear dot-wise, like swallows on telegraph wires before moving south in fall, while the rise and fall och glissandi paint green hills in the far distance: a soft horizon for a civilized country.

It must have been interesting and fun for composer and performer alike to listen to the final result. These
Generic Compositions really open many possibilities for Christopher Fox.

Tracks 4 – 34. inner (1999 – 2001) [45:10]

Christopher Fox on

[…] I […] wanted to create a work which is not bound to the concert hall or to concert-style presentation, which can through the simplicity of its technical requirements and its duration create its own context in many different spaces.
I am fascinated by the intimacy of the relationship between an audience and a solo performer, whether that solo performer be a musician, stand-up comedian or a storyteller. It seems to me that any extended solo performance involves the establishment of a sense of time and expectation, of a bond of trust, out of which the dynamic of the performance evolves. I wanted to create that sort of engagement between Anton and his audience, to establish a sense of musical narrative within which there’s time for introductions, explanations, digressions, some space for surprises and varying degrees of attentiveness and, at the end, a feeling of appropriate conclusions being reached. On this CD each section of music has a separate track ID, so it is possible to trace family resemblances and evolution between different parts of the piece.
Tracks 4, 7, 12, 18, 24, 31 and 34 constitute one family tree, as do tracks 5, 16, 25 and 33, tracks 6, 15, 21 and 26, tracks 8, 10, 13, 19, 22, 27 and 29, tracks 9, 11 and 32 and tracks 14, 17, 20, 23, 28 and 30 […].

When writing through inner I have - out of curiosity - re-ordered the tracks according to those family trees and burned a CD especially for this, and I will also amuse myself with remixing the pieces, letting them play simultaneously within the families, and see what happens - but as I write about the music I, of course, let it flow in its original order. It is, however, interesting to hear the various parts all lined up family-wise, as well as simultaneously family-wise, because then you see how much the composition – in this case; placement – of these parts means for the perception of the music. Lined up for study, family by family, the value of the music is considerably diminished, as compared to the dispersed version – which, of course, IS the only version, artistically and compositionally. This, any way, demonstrates a certain skill of the composer, reminiscent of what was also shown in Generic Compositions #3, #4 & #5. It’s in no way strange that the music of inner seems perhaps somewhat flat when rearranged according to families, but turns out as a major work of art when heard in its intended, dispersed version. You only have to think about the alphabet; letters from A to Z, and compare a reading of it, perhaps ordered in vowels and consonants, to a recitation of a beautiful poem constructed from that lingual material. A banal comparison, perhaps, but still, something to think about: the art of composition as a diligent form of juggling. The quality and significance of something is always much more than the sum of its parts; thus inner!

The listening experience of
inner perhaps calls for fewer words than the other pieces considered here, though it is an important piece with a longer duration than the other works on the CD put together. This is because it soars in such transparent simplicity, resembling calm breathing or a slow walk through a lofty forest, with open meadows appearing ever so often, and the smell of the sea revealing the closeness of salty, open expanses.

Yes, listening soon takes on the sense of stroking a cat curled up in your lap: this repeated, almost automatic, yet tender, loving touch. It’s stillness within, stillness without. Misty fields. Cows resting like ancient memories in the dampness.
Yet, in this stillness: intensity, the magic and energy that upholds, maintains, our perceived universe.

inner comes across like the more extended Morton Feldman works – but with emotions! There are no emotions apparent in, say, Morton Feldman’s Second String Quartet – but in Christopher Fox’s transparent, inward, absentminded writing, there are intense emotions at play, albeit against the light of forgiveness and coming-to-terms.