Reflections, refractions, shadows: Morphosis by Patrick Nunn

From the moment the first chord is struck, calling forth a ghostly electronic counterpart that echoes and glides in response, this survey of works for solo, duo and electronics by British composer Patrick Nunn creates an immersive world of shifting colours, fusing the worlds of acoustic performance and electronic response that offers large moments for reflection. It is clear throughout this disc that there is a deep, organic link between instrument and the electronics, one which explores the affinity between the two rather than imposing one upon the other. Nunn’s soundworld effortlessly blends acoustic instruments with electronics, sometimes triggered directly by the physicality of the performer, as in the disc’s title track, at other times responding to it or reflecting it. In Pareidolia I, the performer influences the electronic clothing of the instrumental line through sensors attached directly to the bass clarinet, from the opening breathy, fragile slap-tongue gestures to multiphonics and fluttering key-strokes. In Morphosis, the pianist wears sensors on the hands to shape and influence the electronic responses directly at the point of performance.

Bartok is the inspiration for …of bones and muscle, in which the piano’s collage-like responses to the Etude no. 3 is reflected in electronic responses, over which the voice of Bartok appears in ghostly form. The human voice whispers and shivers in Into my burning veins, a poison, briefly hovering above colourful piano sonorities and a quarter-tone alto flute.

What strikes the listener about Nunn’s music is its agility; particularly the nimble solo bassoon in Gonk, or the mischievous solo piccolo in Sprite, sparklingly executed by Rosanna Ter-Berg. Flutter-tonguing, trills and supple melodic shapes are deployed to colourful effect in Mercurial Sparks, Volatile Shadows, in which the flute and piano spin and pirouette around one another.

But for all its dynamic rhythmic impetus, it can also be lyrical too, as evidenced in Gonk or the lachrymaic Shadowplay for solo bass clarinet, full of lines and shadows, here breathed into sinuous life in a mesmerising performance by Sarah Watts. And there are moments of profound stillness, too, as in the mid-point of Pareidolia I, which allows space for delicate nuances to be drawn from electronic-wrapped multiphonics. The brittle Isochronous sees piano and percussion at the centre of an electronic tapestry, sometimes engaging and responding to it, other times stepping against its backdrop. The only piece in the collection to feature the violin, Transilient Fragments, draws on the more romantic, expressive possibilities of the instrument in a sequence of ideas linked by the violin’s yearning gestures. The miniature Lamellae explore a thirty-note manual music box in just under ninety seconds of an eerie nostalgia, like a child’s wind-up toy briefly revelling in unexpected dissonance. Away from electronic adornment, the Eight Cryptograms find a beguiling array of colours offered by the piano, including pinpoint harmonics, circling ostinati and brisk, spiny chords.

What Nunn’s music attempts to do is merge live performance with electronic enhancement, submerging the former into the latter such that they become a single entity, the electronics opening out the wider sonic landscape to reveal a greater realm of nuance, shifting colours at which unadorned sonority would only hint. There are moments when the music becomes almost a field of shimmering, electronic butterflies, diaphanous effects glittering and dancing at the behest of the musical imperative. And, crucially, it’s always the musical gesture that remains paramount, acting as the well-spring for the electronic adornments rather than being governed by them. A deep musical inspiration lies at the heart of this far-reaching disc, available from the composer’s website here.

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