CRANE Sound of Horse
These five scores by the British composer Laurence Crane were written over a period of 13 years, between 1996 and 2009, but are unified by a noticeable consistency of mood, texture and technique, and Crane’s itch to fill the existentialist void. Sound of Horse, the most recent work, was composed specifically for the Norwegian new music ensemble Asamisimasa, whose distinctive instrumental line-up – clarinet, cello, percussion, soprano voice with acoustic and/or electric guitar and keyboards – happens to chime nicely with his own sensibility for timbre. The ensemble have opted to perform the open-scored Old Life Was Rubbish (1998) on electric guitar, bass clarinet and piano; but such is the synergy between composer and musicians that each piece sounds tailor-made for the ensemble.
British culture has always taken a particular angle on existentialist woe – think Ivor Cutler obsessing about wearing his elbows out, or the tedium of Tony Hancock’s Sunday afternoon – a vein that Crane’s work has tapped into and managed to make coexist with notions of time informed by Cage and Feldman (which, I guess, would also ally his work to Beckett). Events finds Crane at his most whimsical, setting a sequence of lists culled from the February 7, 1997 edition of the Guardian newspaper, while Riis (1996) and John White in Berlin (2003) tease our sense of right and wrong by sounding familiar tonal patterns that are made to perform against type.
Events elevates everyday minutiae to a position of importance and dares us to mock, Morton Feldman meets John Shuttleworth; John White in Berlin has an attractive surface that belies subtle hints of unease and tenebrosity, while Crane’s ear for tonal organisation is always impeccable. His settings from The Guardian’s birthday column, weather pages and foreign exchange-rate listings – which deal up lines like ‘Gareth Hunt, actor, 54’, ‘Liverpool, sunny, 8’ and the positively Brexotic ‘one pound: 264 escudos’ – construct a counterpoint of incongruity. Compulsively neat, poker-faced chorales and scalic patterns – art, most definitely – frame the merely functional. John White in Berlin is underscored by percussion drones, a stasis from which Crane defines unlikely specifics as minor-toned harmony reminiscent of Feldman is confronted by neon-light major triads – another incongruous counterpoint, played out as pure sound.