Monologues & Dialogues is Peter Sheridan’s new album featuring fourteen compositions for low flutes. Throughout the album, Peter performs on alto, bass, contrabass and hyperbass flutes, creating a showcase of the instruments pitched below the C flute. The project draws out many contrasts – the diverse ranges of the instruments, the various aesthetics and styles represented by each of the fourteen composers and the different (and sometimes surprising) roles that each instrument is asked to play.
The disc opens with Madelyn Byrne’s haunting In a Winter Landscape. The piece is a looming and mournful exploration of the bass flute as a melodic instrument paired with a largely sustained, synthesizer-ish electronic track. Directly following the Byrne, Ross Edwards’ classic, jiving solo Ulpirra appears, performed on alto flute. The spritely energy that Sheridan brings to this incarnation of Ulpirra (a piece generally heard in a higher register on recorder, piccolo and C flute) leaves no doubt as to the agility of the alto flute. These two opening tracks set the scene for the world of contrasting roles that will appear in variations throughout the album; that is, the roles of melodic, highly agile, “flutish” playing versus explorations into gritty sounds, percussive techniques and the timbral idiosyncrasies of these less common instruments.
Returning to the looming, other-worldly vibe of the opening track, Adrienne Albert’s Three for Two presents a number of sides to how the alto and bass flute can each interact with the contrabass flute as a duo. Albert opens the piece with bass flute and contrabass flute assuming roles of ornamented melody and sustained drone, respectively. Of note in this section of the movement is the use of voice in the contrabass part. We hear Sheridan singing and playing the slow, growling line, creating an amazingly striking, otherworldly landscape of difference tones and harmonics over the contrabass’s almost subsonic lower tessitura. Albert slashes straight into a contrasting B-section that depicts (for this author, at least) a slightly sinister carousel ride before the languid opening landscape returns and rolls into some gorgeous, rumbling, trilling harmonic sweeps on the contrabass. This is another amazing side of the contrabass’s sound world: the smoothness of the transition between rumbling low harmonics and flitting high ones is just sensational.
Gary Schocker’s Dark Star is a lilting look at bass flute and piano through a traditional, flute-as-melody piano-as-accompaniment lens, giving Sheridan the chance to show off some supple phrasing. Jane Hammond sensitively performs the impressionist-influenced piano part.
I find it a little difficult not to let my mind wander while listening to this particular track on the album. There’s something about many of Schocker’s compositions, including this one, that send me window gazing and I’m not too sure whether to call it a good or a bad thing.
Noisy Oyster is Hilary Taggart’s suite that features each of the alto, bass and contrabass flutes in five solo vignettes. Taggart has structured the movements such that the first and last movements are played on alto flute, the second and fourth on bass, and the middle movement on contrabass, creating a symmetrical fall then rise in pitch range over the course of the piece. The title movement, Noisy Oyster, is a jaunty little scene akin to Arthur Honegger’s Danse de la Chevre with something of a bubbling, seaside bent. It is interesting to see how much agility Taggart demands of each of the different sizes of flute. The alto and bass flute are both treated in a manner akin to writing for C flute, but Zephyr, the contrabass movement is much more of a study in the instrument’s idiomatic qualities. The opening phrase moves slowly through the contrabass’s low register, articulated with small amounts of key noise and a raspy tone. This is then juxtaposed immediately with a high phrase, demonstrating the contrabass’s extremely diverse palette of tone colours.
Vaughan McAlley’s Serenade and Burlesque is a playful set of two movements that demonstrate the low flutes in a traditional flute choir setting. Lisa Maree Amos’s appearance on C flute lends a soaring energy to the ensemble.
It’s interesting to note that Sheridan recorded each of the low flute parts himself by multi-tracking each one separately. This is a pretty cool idea and is mostly very effective but there are moments (for this author), such as on the last note of the Burlesque movement which doesn’t have a completely clean cut off, where working with a live ensemble might have given the recording a bit more of an edge.
[Listen to excerpt from Serenade and Burlesque]
Michal Rosiak’s rocking low flute quartet Quasi Latino was recorded in the same manner (i.e. all parts performed by Sheridan, multitracked) and has a very strong sense of ensemble. The piece uses the percussive key slap sounds of the lowest pitched member of the ensemble to suggest a slap bass to great effect. The piece’s zany, mixed meter material and the burbling and chugging of the low flutes suggests something of a Martian Latin band.
Vincent Giles Differing Dialogues is another adventure through the wilder sounds that the low flutes bring to the table. The piece has a certain sinister feeling, particularly once the trilling, flutter-tongue drum rolls signify the beginning of the march of doom into a shrieking, macabre forest. Giles paints an amazing landscape exploiting so many of the wondrous extended techniques offered by the instrumentation.
Addressing a completely different aesthetic are Stanley M. Hoffman’s Meditations and Memories, a restful, gorgeous and almost plainchant-like duet for alto flutes, and David Loeb’s Winter Sarabande, a hauntingly beautiful bass flute solo. These pieces each explore the melodically expressive side of the instruments as does Houston Dunleavy’s Serenade and Mike Mower’s Two Sonnets. The Mower is a dreamy and heartfelt piece that brings together elements of jazz and impressionism to create a landmark set for alto flute, occasionally reminiscent of Roussel’s Joueurs de Flute. Sheridan’s sensitivity to the phrasing shines through in each of these pieces, demonstrating his ability to approach the low flutes from a supremely musical angle.
To experience Dominy Clements’ Groaning Oceans as the penultimate track on this disc is joyously unsettling. The wild feast of electronic sounds and hyperbass flute leave one feeling a little vertigo with its wide, slow soundscape. This is a piece that very excellently pulls together some of the most wonderful sounds that Sheridan and the hyperbass flute concoct together and should optimally be enjoyed in a dark room lying on the floor.
[Listen to excerpt from Groaning Oceans]
Monologues and Dialogues is a CD whose strength lies in the achievements that abound in each track rather than as a whole album. The many disparate styles and aesthetics represented are sometimes a little incongruous when heard consecutively, but that should not take away from the wealth of care and expertise that has been put in by Sheridan and each of his collaborators – composers, performers et al. This is a disc that will teach you a great deal about what lies beneath the C flute and is a fine musical achievement to boot.
CD Track Listings (from Move)
3. Dark and light 4:20
4. Lament for Sarah 4:13
5. Sassy 2:35
7. Noisy Oyster 1:59
8. Defragmented 2:12
9. Zephyr 3:43
10. Partita 2:30
11. Autumn Leaves 1:42
About the review author:
Shaun Barlow is a professional flute player based between Sydney and New York. He specialises in contemporary music, flute beatboxing, collaborating with composers and exploring the endless multitude of sounds available from the flute. Shaun has performed with the Sydney Conservatorium Modern Music Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra, the Kammerklang Orchestra and the Sydney University Opera Company. http://www.shaunbarlow.com/
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