Revelling in a modernist soundworld: Object/Shadow by Mikel Kuehn

Released in November last year, Object/Shadow is an overview of works written in the two decades between 1994-2014 by the American composer, Mikel Kuehn.


Undercurrents for 14 instruments, deft, almost pointilliste textural gestures – a splash of cymbal, a shimmer of vibraphone, a ripple in the piano – combine to create a music that is constantly shifting, as is the scuttling solo marimba of Devouring Time.


Chiaroscuro, for solo cello and electronics, comes to life with percussive taps and slaps on the cello’s body, and fades out in a shimmering cloud of colour. Colour Fields is written for the unusual quartet of tenor saxophone, guitar, vibraphone and piano, an ensemble revelling in a modernist soundworld; saxophone and guitar often step together, answered by vibraphone and piano, in a distinct and bustling dialogue between the instruments.


Object/Ombre for twelve saxophones and electronics creates some especially exciting, darkly ominous colours. The piece for solo instrument unadorned by electronics, Unfoldings for solo guitar, cannot help but bring Tippett’s lyrical The Blue Guitar to mind, although there’s a greater nervous energy about Kuehn’s piece, matched by some vibrant colours. The disc concludes with the darting, playful Between the Lynes for cello, flute and piano, indebted perhaps to …explosante fixe… by Boulez.


The survey on this excellently-recorded disc convinces the listener of Kuehn’s compositional integrity; in an age when it’s all too easy for composers to leap aboard bandwagons or write for particularly popular groups and soundworlds, especially if it garners a popular response, Kuehn’s carefully-crafted soundscapes are realised in a manner that utterly liberates their ideas, rather than being imposed on them for the purpose of novelty or gimmickry. There’s a fluidity and a maturity to the writing that makes this disc particularly satisfying. Like the music of Dai Fujikura, for instance, it avoids traditional ensembles and instrumental line-ups to pursue a sonic landscape of the composer’s own hearing.


Performed by Ensemble Dal Niente, Flexible Music, the BGSU Saxophone Ensemble and instrumentalists, Object/Shadow is released on the New Focus Recordings label, find out more here.