f(l)ute songs (2018) Modern Love (UK)
music by Mary Jane Leach
THE WIRE MAGAZINE
Mary Jane Leach
Modern Love DL/LP
A key figure in New York's Downtown scene in the 1970s, Mary Jane Leach's legacy is only - extraordinarily - getting off the ground. This delay in picking up her work borders on the criminal, given Leach's dexterous use of instrument and technology in a composition that explores not only duration but the role of the instrumentalist in performing works that make demands on their physical capacity to play. An associate of Peter Zummo and Arthur Russell, Leach was an active member of the city's DownTown Ensemble, a group of musicians and composers dedicated to promoting new music. Some of her music has been accessible, the notable examples being Celestial Fires (1993) on Phill Niblock's XI label, Ariadne's Lament (1998) and more recently, a small edition of Piepe Dreams, feauturing two of Leach's late 1980s compositions. But as a general rule, Leach has not received the greater exposure her composition deserves.
The flautist Manuel Zurria clearly feels the same way. This album is not the first time that the Italian musician has recorded Leach's work: three of the four pieces on (f)lute songs appear elsewhere on his earlier albums, often framed in contexts sympathetic to Leach's interest in late Renaissance music, on the one hand, and the most contemporary on the other. As the title suggests, (f)lute songs is a collection of flute works; as it also suggests, there is a n interface with an earlier kind of music (two tracks titled for John Dowland make this link explicit); and, a further suggestion, these are songs - so, although the voice is framed in a resolute non-singing (one thinks of the breath needed to play the flute in the first place), the human is very much to the fore here. Leach is a virtuoso of polyphony and Zurria brings out these multiple voices well. Dowland's Tears (2011) for nine flutes, and Semper Dolens, the latter a 2018 composition for one solo and six taped flutes which makes obvious reference to Dowland's early 17th century Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens for viols or lute consort, sit closely together, the interplay of counterpoint and a slow tempo making a the two a stately progress. A hymnal quality attaches to Trio for Duo (1985), for live taped alto flute and voice, and the eight-flute Bruckstuck (1989). Such is the polyphonic quality of all four piece that guessing the exact instrumentation is a process of aural hallucination. That said, these four stately tempoed Leach compositions make for a beguilingmix of themes ancient and modern.
Matéj Kratochvíl, His Voice, 12/3/2018
The history of music is full of forgotten authors and their works, which are picked up from oblivion thanks to the initiative of enthusiasts. This was the case of Julius Eastman, a remarkable phenomenon on New York City's 1970s scene. A significant part of his music has come back to light in recent years, his comrade, vocalist and songwriter Mary Jane Leach. Since the death of Eastman in 1990, she has searched for his lost compositions, and has taken care of his legacy all the time. Paradoxically, her own work was still in the shadows yet, from the long list of compositions, two CDs in the 1990s, one last year and the current title. The flute in the title indicates what the instrument here dominates. We hear it in many layers, all recorded by one interpreter. Manuel Zurria, an Italian flutist standing behind the Alter Ego, took up four of his tracks from 1985 to 2018, from which he recently ordered the latest. The key word here is polyphony, that is, the intertwining of more voices, and the exploration of what happens when you wrap around the layers of the same sound, more densely, freely, rhythmically or almost immobile. To the method of stacking the voices with the help of gradual recording on the tape, Mary Jane Leach got first as an interpreter when she perfected her intonation accuracy. She discovered a creative process for herself, similarly used by composite colleagues, especially minimalist denominations. While Phil Niblock achieves the appearance of almost motionless sounds and Steve Reich, on the contrary, constructs rhythmically precise cutter mechanisms, Leach examines a wide space between the two poles. The oldest of the four songs, Trio for Duo (1985), is the least moving, prenoted and live-playing flute, moving in slow, close-wiping steps to create painfully disagreeable dissonance. The result of the voice of the flute singing through the instrument is also accumulating. Bruckstück (1989) was originally vocal for nine sopranos. Now we hear nine flutes gently pulsing first on one tone and gradually gaining another. Monotony is constantly changing in the sounds of a monochrome but otherwise constantly changing. Two more recent compositions refer to one of Mary Jane Leach's inspirational sources, which is the late Renaissance music, a period in which polyphonic art has reached the peak and has often sounded comparable to 20th century experiments. The plaque's name, which makes the flute a lute, also refers to this chapter of musical history and sets of instruments of the same type, often louten, for which complicated multi-voice forms were intended. Dowland's tears, Dowland's Tears (2011), quote Lachrymae from 1604 from the famous composer John Dowland, and ten flute voices are more airy, lighter temple organs. Here we can watch a brighter melodic line as it emerges from the endless drift of voices and disappears again. Semi Dolens (2018) for six flute and one live act are also signed by Dowland and the Renaissance. John Dowland became famous as a master of melancholy and the author of songs about death, tears and darkness. In its translation into contemporary style and flute accents, it is still a music in which the perception of time can be easily and very pleasantly dissipated. In contrast to her older compositions, Mary Jane Leach moved to greater audience accessibility, but she did not lose anything.
Guy Peters - 28 september 2018
De Amerikaanse componiste en performer Mary Jane Leach heeft in de loop der jaren een sterke reputatie opgebouwd, ondanks het feit dat ze zelf opvallend weinig muziek uitbracht en zelden in deze regionen te horen is. Daar wordt nu verandering in gebracht, want met (f)lute songs verschijnt haar vierde album en zondag zal ze aanwezig zijn wanneer haar werk uitgevoerd wordt in kader van (From) Bach to the Future, de concerteeks van Sound In Motion rond barokmuziek. Leach is een van die artiesten die aankwam in het New York van de jaren zeventig, wat toen net een broeihaard van nieuwe geluiden was. Het was niet enkel John Zorn die er volop experimenteerde, maar ook figuren als Arthur Russell, Peter Zummo, Julius Eastman en Leach zelf. Heel wat figuren uit die scene zouden later nog de krachten bundelen via het Downtown Ensemble. Leach componeerde in de loop der jaren heel wat werken, vooral voor stem, en combineerde die met een fascinatie voor geluid, en meer specifiek de fysieke kwaliteiten ervan, net als hun relatie tot ruimte. Veel van haar muziek klinkt vrij sober en uitgepuurd, maar vergt wel opperste concentratie om het ten volle te appreciëren. Dat Leach weinig albums uitbracht (twee in de jaren negentig, en vorig jaar nog eentje, Pipe Dreams, met werk uit de jaren tachtig) heeft ermee te maken dat ze als componist niet albumgericht werkt, maar ook omdat ze zich ten volle inzet voor de artistieke gemeenschap waar ze deel van uitmaakt. Net zo opvallend is dat ze het nalatenschap van de in 1990 overleden Julius Eastman (een cruciale figuur tussen avant-garde en minimalisme, die ook opviel door z’n grote maatschappelijke betrokkenheid) zo toegewijd beheert en uitdraagt via haar website. Zoals de titel al aangeeft, bevat (f)lute songs werk dat uitgevoerd wordt door fluiten, het eerste instrument dat ze niet zelf bespeelde waar Leach voor schreef. De vier composities dateren uit respectievelijk 1985, 1989, 2011 en 2018, maar vormen een opmerkelijk coherent geheeL Dat ze alle vier uitgevoerd werden door de Italiaanse fluitist Manuel Zurria versterkt die indruk natuurlijk alleen maar. En als het al wat vreemd lijkt dat een concertreeks rond barokmuziek ook een hoofdstuk met een hedendaagse New Yorkse componiste aanbiedt, dan wordt snel duidelijk waarom dat het geval is, want “Dowland’s Tears” is geïnspireerd op de ‘Lachrimae’ van barokcomponist John Dowland, en klinkt, ondanks het feit dat het een werk voor tien fluiten is, ook een beetje alsof je een orgelwerk van Bach hoort (eerder bewerkte Leach ook al cellomuziek van die barokgrootheid). Het is een beklemmend mooi stuk, dat beweegt met een sacrale statigheid. Enigszins verwant is “Semper Dolens”, voor een solofluit die gecombineerd wordt met zes opgenomen fluiten. Dat klinkt erg sober, maar ontplooit net als heel wat andere barokmuziek een intense emotionaliteit en harmonische weelde. En ook hier is het voortdurend de oren spitsen, want je denkt misschien ook orgel, accordeon of klarinet te horen. Die rijkheid zit in opener “Trio For Duo” verstopt in de kleine nuances. Lang aangehouden fluit- én stemgolven met een haast perfect gelijklopend timbre worden op elkaar gelegd, waardoor het enkel de verschuivingen van de ene toon naar de andere zijn die de verschillen en grensvlakken verraden. “Bruckstück”, tenslotte, werd oorspronkelijk geschreven voor acht sopranen, maar wordt ook uitgevoerd op fluiten, wat hier leidt tot een traag verschuivende, maar weldadige polyfonie. Van de vier composities is dit de meest ‘dynamische’ en contrastrijke, maar het effect is net als bij de andere drie eentje van hypnose. (f)lute songs lijkt op papier misschien een vrij nauwe zone af te bakenen, maar het gaat om een release die de eigenheid van Leach mooi in de kijker zet, de link legt met de barokweelde en bovendien erg toegankelijk is, ook voor niet-ingewijden.
Avenir Light una delle font preferite dai designer. Facile da leggere, viene utilizzata per titoli e paragrafi.
Four pieces for flute and voice composed between 1985-2018 by Mary Jane Leach, a pivotal part of NYC’s pioneering avant-garde community since the 1970s and an active member of the legendary DownTown Ensemble, working alongside peers including Arthur Russell, Ellen Fullman, Peter Zummo, Philip Corner and Arnold Dreyblatt, as well as devoting years to the preservation of Julius Eastman’s legacy since his death in 1990. Mary Jane's vinyl debut 'Pipe Dreams' arrived last year via the Blume imprint and completely blew us away, and '(f)lute songs’ is only her second vinyl release in over five decades, feeding and expanding our obsession with her work. In the late 1970’s Mary Jane Leach was triggered by an interview she heard with Steve Reich in which he implored artists to figure out ways of becoming more self sufficient when it came to performance rather than relying on traditional group structures. At the time Leach had already began to experiment with recordings she had made of herself performing long sustained tones made on instruments she could play; mostly voice and bass clarinet, and gradually became fascinated by the sound phenomena resulting from layering tones on her multi-track tape machine. Reich’s thoughts, however, made Leach realize that she didn't have to restrict herself to instruments she could play and, in an indirect way, were the foundation for this album. Trio for Duo (1985), was Mary Jane's first attempt at creating work for instruments she couldn't play; revolving around alto flute and voice. She explains "I had noticed that my voice matched the sound of the bottom fifth of the alto flute, and so the voice in this piece is sung to sound as much like an alto flute as possible. There are four parts, but only three play at the same time, one part passing off its last note to the next entering part, weaving a tapestry of matching and contrasting timbres. By using glissandos, more “extra-notated” sounds are created than appear on the page. I originally conceived of it with each part coming from four separate speakers placed in the four corners of a hall, but I realised that it sounds best on tape with a stereo mix.” The result is an incredible, highly engrossing study in phasing, the voice sung to sound as much like an alto flute as possible to the the extent that it becomes almost impossible to discern which parts are which. Bruckstück (1989) was originally written for eight sopranos, but is played on flutes on this recording - using the same pitches, but sounding very different. It was commissioned by the Kulturamt in Köln to coincide with the opening of an exhibition of paintings by Jack Ox that were organised using an analysis of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. Mary Jane explains "The lowest parts (relatively speaking) represent the string section, using the same basic rhythm as Bruckner’s to set up the tonality throughout the piece. The rest of the voices represent the wind instruments. The piece is polyphonic, with a lot of closely resolving intervals - primarily major and minor seconds. Rather than writing linear melodies for one voice, I wrote melodies that are passed from one voice to another.” Dowland’s Tears (2011) was written for for nine flutes, thinking of it as a recording project and not a concert piece (it now has a “solo” tenth part added), while Semper Dolens (2018) is for solo and six taped flutes, with sustained harmony and dissonance in mind. These recordings feature noted Roman flutist Manuel Zurria, who has worked with some of the most important composers around the world. In 1990 he founded Alter Ego, a leading group for contemporary music in Italy. Numerous composers have written pieces for him, and he has expanded the repertoire even further by re-orchestrating compositions into pieces for multiple flutes, as heard on almost forty albums. If you're interested in sound phenomena or just looking for some of the most beautiful, avant garde music you'll hear this year; we reckon (f)lute songs is a bit of a masterpiece.
(f)lute songs is a collection of pieces composed by artist Mary Jane Leach, almost entirely written for sustained tones played by flutes and voice. Trio for Duo, composed in 1985, features four components, of which only three are present at a given time. The notes, created by alto flutes and voice (I had no idea there were any other sounds other than flutes until I read more about the album; the vocal drones are nearly indiscernable from the others), phase in and out of the stereo mix. Carefully played glissandos create slight dissonance, bringing natural, fluid tension into the cascading strings of pure harmonic tones. The constant movement of the separate parts allows for simultaneous resolution and introduction of new, subtle agitation; the harmonies that arise are beautiful and uneasy, never one without the other. Dowland’s Tears (2011), for nine flutes, explores similar territory, but with more movement; each instrument plays a somber descending melody at differing intervals, again creating fascinating phase effects. Semper Dolens (2018) uncovers light from darkness, with gorgeous chords rising from the melancholy phrases—the higher notes entering at around the three minute mark are breathtaking—and Bruckstück (1989) is possibly the most beautiful piece, letting the listener hear the soft breaths of the performer as they play each note. (f)lute songs is truly wonderful, captivating music, whether you want to read about the techniques used or not.
Phoebus Kyriakoudis, October 2020
In my ongoing exploration of contemporary female composers - an attempt to widen my admittedly narrow horizons on the subject - I came across the work of Mary Jane Leach, a composer born in 1949 in Vermont that played an important role in the post-avantgarde post-minimalist New York music scene and the most important scholar and archive collector of the music of Julius Eastman. Her album (F)Lute songs, which came out in 2018, contains four pieces written or arranged for flute and vocal ensemble; from her latest work for solo and six taped flutes, Semper Dolens, to one of her most popular choral pieces from the 80s, Bruckstück, Leach’s music presented me with a vibrant essay on the power of layering, phasing and tonal functionality in a soundscape of homogeneity and coherence.
I first became aware of Mary Jane Leach while listening to an episode of “the Soundlab”, a podcast hosted by Paul Steenhuisen where he interviews contemporary music artists. During his interview of Mary Jane Leach, he delved into her exploration and reimagining of pieces of early vocal music such as Dowland’s “I saw my lady weep” or Arianna’s Lament “Lasciatemi morire!” by Monteverdi for instrumental and vocal ensembles. Being the early vocal music enthusiast that I am, I decided to look further into her music; instead, I was taken aback by the ability of this composer to create complexity out of simplicity, delineating musical spaces where inertia and momentum seem to coexist, where tradition and innovation cooperate to give birth to her personal and distinct voice in contemporary music. Memories from 16th and 17th-century consort music meet Bruckner’s 8th Symphony and post-minimalism in works where timbral uniformity and an internalized pulse are the blank canvas for her music’s infinite variations of colour and consonance to shine on. Taking from old and new pieces, this album stands as an account of her matured compositional style, presented through four works: Trio for Duo, Dowland’s Tears, Semper Dolens and Bruckstück. The album lasts for a total of 36 minutes, a time filled with infinite sonorous snapshots you feel the impulse to loop eternally and simply exist in. The choice to arrange her piece Bruckstück, originally written for 8 sopranos, for a flute ensemble is certainly an unusual one; however, the result shines a different light on the piece, which can provide a field of discourse for the arrangement of such music. That and a lot more will be discussed below in an exploration of each of the four pieces.
Trio for Duo (2011)
From the very first track, a piece written for two alto flutes and two voices, Leach’s interest in the interplay of layered sonic structures is evident. The piece, as she describes, was her first attempt at creating a work for instruments she couldn’t play using mainly sustained tones and attempting to achieve a homogeneity of tone between the different instruments. “There are four parts”, she explains, “but only three play at the same time, one part passing off its last note to the next entering part, weaving a tapestry of matching and contrasting timbres. By using glissandos, more ‘extra-notated’ sounds are created than appear on the page.” The piece observes a gradual upwards increase of range and resulting timbral interplay, while a pulsating effect is created by the exchange of lines as she describes vaguely reminiscent of English madrigalists like William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons. The diverging lines resulting from the sliding pitches seem to work with an architectural vision to outline spaces of musical activity within the piece.
Dowland’s Tears (1989)
One of her two explorations of Dowland’s music in this album- and my personal favourite- this piece borrows from his song “I saw my lady weep” to create a gently undulating lamentoso serenade for nine flutes and a taped additional part. There are signs of tonal organization around the key of C minor, however virtually all the possible colorations of the scale are explored. Here is also evident the influence that organ music has had on Leach’s music; in her interview with Steenhuisen, she remembers laying as a child on the floor of the cathedral where her mother worked as an organist and letting the waves of sound coming from the instrument wash over her. The sensation one receives from her pieces is definitely a similar one; exemplified just from the opening gradual build-up of resonance and the striking organ-like quality of the flute timbre, this piece feels like hearing a 17th-century organ improvisation in a state of trance, letting the music envelop you in a shimmering cloak of sound as if coming from far away.
Semper Dolens (2018)
The title of this piece is a quotation from a consort piece Dowland witfully titled “semper Dowland, semper dolens” or “always Dowland, always doleful”. The focus here is on sustained harmonies that create a pulsating effect with the flutes’ consecutive entries. Here the harmonic direction is ever clearer, illustrated by the voice-leading of the parts as they slowly move in steps and the resulting consonances gain functional meaning.
The final piece in this album, Bruckstück, was commissioned to coincide with an exhibition of Jack Ox paintings organised using an analysis of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. As Leach herself points out, the lower and higher parts of the ensemble are meant to represent the movement and behaviour of the string and woodwind section respectively, imitating closely Bruckner’s patterns to establish a tonal centre. Indeed, this piece resembles a distilled vision of the orchestral approach to musical communication, allowing each part to play its own role in the hierarchy dictated by the material. Particularly striking is the middle part of the piece, where the music seems to find a sort of undulating repose in the harmony of the diminished chord, through which the ensemble explores distant and close harmonic worlds but always oscillating back to it. This gives the music a sense of internal drive, a pendulum-like motion that fuels the layering of parts to retain their meaning.
To conclude, I raised in the beginning a point surrounding the choice to arrange this piece for a flute multiple ensemble and, given that I made a promise to bring it up, I shall devote my final words to it. While it is not unheard of to arrange contemporary pieces of music for different ensembles, it is certainly a more cautionary process when we are speaking of pieces exploring the phenomenon of sound from a timbral perspective. In other words, music that is specifically designed for the capabilities and tone colour of a specific instrument or combination of instruments is exceptionally difficult to arrange if one is to maintain a similarity between the desired and the achieved musical result. In music with minimalist or post-minimalist traces, such as this one, texture is one of the main ways of creating variety in a space of limited musical material or significant thematic development. However, as Leach’s ensemble in either cases would have been essentially homogenous in content, be it sopranos or flutes - and the difference is not that big as we saw in "Trio for Duo" - a satisfactory result can be achieved with either. To me, however, it also raises the important point of there being a strong link with consort music and the way it was performed back then; many consort pieces of the seventeenth century did not specify an intended instrumental family to perform them, giving the choice to the performers to decide; while texture was an important parameter to those works, it was achieved by purely musical means and not relying on the combination of specific instrumental colours. With this in mind, Leach’s album succeeds in creating a presence in the current discussion of contemporary music, drawing from older practices and philosophies to determine its future steps. Her voice is ever more distinct in a time where the lack of any traceable aesthetic line seems to be the norm, putting once again on the table the question: “Can new music be written while looking back?” A modern-day Dowland? It certainly sounds like it.
Look at Dowland's Tears videoclip