On Record: s t a r g a z e – ONE (Transgressive Records)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

s t a r g a z e is both an innovative ensemble crossing borders between classical and modern music, and a typist’s nightmare! The group was founded in Berlin and Amsterdam, and prides itself on a flexible and collaborative musical approach.

Collaboration was certainly the name of the game with ONE, whereby five different composers from around the world wrote a piece remotely in lockdown-imposed isolation. The music was then arranged for and with the help of the s t a r g a z e group, who recorded it online, part by part.

What’s the music like?

Engaging. Greg Saunier’s Metaphor begins in reserved fashion, with serious intonations that grow into more colourful statements, the wind section of the orchestra taking the lead. The orchestration has a timbre suggesting the 1920s, though as it progresses the music becomes more animated and a little playful, before an extended chorale led by the piano.

Arone Dyer’s Voicecream is much less conservative in its output, with sweeping statements suggesting an orchestra on the edge, with melodic movements that are much more difficult to predict or trace. A series of punchy block chords takes over half way through, stalling the momentum but adding impressive gravitas to the music.

Vacancy, written by Tyondai Braxton, is a compelling conversation between very different viewpoints – one, a series of swirling motifs, another a more relaxed but authoritative series of chords, yet another voice given out in flurries of woodwind. Nik Colk Void’s Recollection Pulse #3 is similarly convincing, though uses much more minimal material in its percussion. Just the one chord, repeated in syncopation, pushes this music forward over bass notes that effectively stand for the strokes of the oars on a boat. Gradually and inevitably the piece moves forwards before grinding into the dust somewhat, reaching an eerie and evocative conclusion.

Finally Descend, from Aart Strootman, evolves under a haze of orchestral light, some beautiful colours extracted from relatively coarse string and wind textures. A drone-like effect is cast, but with largely consonant harmonies that transport the listener into a comforting cloud, growing ever denser as they progress and then relaxing to softer, wind-based colours and a gently oscillating coda.

Does it all work?

Yes. It is tempting to say that a bit of spontaneity is lost in the recording method, but great credit should go to musicians and composers alike for ensuring that more often than not the musicians and instruments feel like they were recorded in the same room.

Is it recommended?

Yes. An intriguing suite for sure – with music that successfully sits at a junction between modern classical and improvisation, evading categorisation with grace, poise and a welcome dash of humour.

Listen

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