On Record – Julian Brink: Utility Music (Sono Luminus)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Johannesburg composer Julian Brink initially conceived Utility Music as part of a film score. The film was unfinished, but he revisited the music during the pandemic in 2020, moulding it into a standalone album. The recording took place remotely around the world, with contributions from musicians in Los Angeles, New York, London, Frankfurt and Hamburg, not to mention the composer’s bedroom at his apartment in Hollywood.

The title reflects the German phrase ‘gebrauchsmusik’ – music written for a specific event or purpose – as well as a reflection of how the recording came about. The influence of John Cage is clear, too, in the more experimental aspects of the music and its germination.

What’s the music like?

Easy on the ear – but never too easy. Brink often works from the approach that less is more, and it serves him extremely well, for Utility Music has an intimate, conversational approach that instinctively draws the listener closer and communicates directly.

The quality of his instrumentalists is a clear asset, too – and they all deserve a name check. The core are three string players, Moldovan violinist Dan-Iulian Druțac, violist Nick Revel (of the PUBLIQ Quartet), and cellist Joe Zeitlin. They are complemented by woodwind (Matt Demerritt), clarinet (Tyler Neidermayer), horn (Meredith Moore), trumpet (Joe Auckland), brass (Juliane Gralle), harp (Hanna Rabe), percussion (Max Gaertner) and bass (Gabe Noel).

Colombo/Green Fingers shows a little of the influence of Steve Reich, but Miniatures is where you sense Brink’s individual voice is louder, a mechanism slowly turning with clicks and whirs against coloristic effects from the strings. Simple Trio is an intimate aside, while Eventually Lapse has watery textures over which a violin sings and calls. Eastwood no.4, meanwhile, is especially descriptive, attractively scored for harp, percussion, viola and cello – while the final Pattern Shells, for mixed quartet, is attractively shaded.

Does it all work?

It does indeed – and if you need further proof, watch this ‘reaction’ video from viola player Nick Revel:

Is it recommended?

Yes – very much so. There are some intriguing and descriptive sound worlds awaiting listeners here, but also intimate and personal asides that speak with a calm but probing intensity.

Listen & Buy

To hear clips and explore buying options, you can view this release on the Sono Luminus website

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