While once a startling, exciting reaction to Serialism and avant-garde experimentation in the mid-20th Century, tonal minimalism is kind of a novelty / cheese and wine party topic in 2018. This approach has become so pedestrian, easily realized, and predictable that you can essentially make it with an app — even Brian Eno stepped out from behind the curtain and made several of his own. Turn on a machine or grab a string quartet, set them on G major, slowly modulate to G minor over the course of 40 minutes, and you're set (and watch the crowds gather because people slightly more astute than your average bear seem to love it).*
If you suffer from the same triggers, just hang on through the first minutes of "Quiver #1." The work begins with a familiar, speedy pattern of looping bloop boop blip bloop bloop blip and fills out with a swelling counterpoint a few octaves down; sputtering guitar licks fill in the gaps, and we're somewhere near Christopher Willits' six-string-based explorations of reverb and space that produce the pop version of electroacoustic music.
Near 1:29, the mix does the aural equal of wringing a towel and nearly turns inside out. The piece falls into a swath of cut & paste glitches, production stutters, and missing frames à la Oval or The Books. Now the track vacillates as not entirely stable — and nowhere near pop — with the aforementioned minutia darting like tornado detritus; if you were to compare this music to a sphere — and it does visually invoke that image (also: Eight tracks named Quiver, eight planets...) — these thin, rhythmic grains swirling across the stereo field act as both instigator and cork to whatever is currently churning under the dome (divine creationism, bubbling swamp, microbial evolution, etc.).
The authors of Quiver, Tokyo's Yui Onodera on electric strings and found objects, New Yorker Stephen Vitiello on guitars, modular synth, and toy piano (he is the gentleman who once had a studio on the 91st floor of the World Trade Center) and New Jersey born noise maker Kenneth Kirschner, remain focused on realizing disparate moods with restrained tweaks to the same bionic ensemble. "Quiver #5" introduces a submerged vibraphone (toy piano?) into rumbling bass and creaking walls. "Quiver #7" is saturated with sustained guitar notes that, say, Daniel Lanois would pull out his tool belt; some works lean heavily on field recordings — either processed (lots of delay and simple things such as reverse) or exposed (i.e. the mono-syllabic, cheery toddler engaged in busy work at the end of "Quiver #3").
Listened to sequentially, Quiver is a soundtrack to a movie not made. I twice said aloud, "Why aren't there more film scores that walk this line of 1) harmonic convention 2) enough pull toward Spectral textures to create intrigue and inspire musicians to reach outside so-called consonance?" If anything, what I think about most is how this gorgeous, complicated album has made me put on the brakes and question my bias when reading the label "Minimalist" slapped on anything released after 1985. That's a significant win.
*I should say that I appreciate anything that disrupts monotony and is an insufferable prick to status quo, and Minimalism was a mission accomplished amidst the Schoenberg and Cage regurgitations. But we need more La Monte Youngs and less Einstein on the Beach. Have I offended everyone yet?
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