Written by the British-based, Japanese performer and composer Ryoko Akama, Places and Pages is "a collection of fifty text scores to be performed at random places". In late 2015, Ryoko and Chilean guitarist Cristián Alvear performed one of the pieces at a festival in Chile. Based on that experience, Ryoko felt the score needed to be developed further and realized in a context other than a concert situation. She wanted the scores' instructions to be worked upon in connection with the place of performance, making them more site-specific. This double-CD contains actualizations of forty-five of the resulting fifty, recorded at the INSUB studio or sites in Geneva, Switzerland, over ten days in June 2016. Despite each disc being close to its full capacity of eighty minutes, the album could not accommodate all fifty, so the other five are available online as free downloads. Alongside Ryoko herself, the actualizations were created by Alvear plus Switzerland's Cyril Bondi, d'incise, cellist Stefan Thut and clarinetist Christian Muller. Across the forty-five tracks, performances were given by every size group from solo performances (by all except Alvear) right up to several sextets, with duos being the most common and quartets the least.
Contents of the scores are neither provided with the album nor online, so it is impossible to judge the success of these pieces as realizations of them. In interview Ryoko has said that the group of musicians, who felt they had a lot in common and accepted each other's artistic characteristics, shared many friendly conversations but never predetermined in detail what they would do with score realizations. The end results are entirely consistent with that comment. Based on the personnel playing on any track — the only information given — it is practically impossible to predict how that actualization will sound. For instance, there is no certainty that a musician will be playing their usual instrument in their usual style, if at all. Another relevant factor was the time pressure that the musicians were working under. This resulted in some very brief tracks. For example, the album's shortest track, at five seconds, is a token solo piece by Ryoko herself. Track durations are unpredictable, too; the longest, at over twelve minutes, is a d'incise-Muller duo, but one of the sextet pieces lasts just seventeen seconds, barely long enough for each of the players to be heard once. The album's opening track, "CB", an enjoyable minute-long Bondi solo, features the percussive sound of stones being struck, and could easily be taken for a realization of Christian Wolff's Stones.
Taken together, the fifty realizations vary a great deal both in the style of playing and also in the volume of the sound; some feature the players alone, others include ambient sounds, included deliberately or otherwise. The pieces are diverse and surprising, sometimes by design and sometimes by happenstance. Interestingly, after the recordings were complete, Ryoko commented that she could not distinguish who had made what sound. It seems that each recording was a snapshot of a particular group at a particular time and place, resulting in a unique result that could never be reproduced exactly; while that is true of any performance, here it is far more pronounced than ever. Individually, the tracks make fascinating listening, but they were not designed to be heard together as a suite. Consequently, they can be heard in any order and be just as effective together. This means that each disc can be played on shuffle, giving enough permutations to provide a lifetime of listening. Recommended.
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