FRANZSON The Negotiation of context
A title with a message, a message worth pondering. Negotiating context is what good composers aspire to and what complacent composers leave to routine. And this chain of three interrelated pieces written by the Icelandic-born, New York-based composer David Brynjar Franzson between 2009 and 2011 generates musical structure from a re evaluation of the relationship between context and sound. Sounds are only as good as the last context in which you heard them: ‘It is not until we hear sound in a new context that it is liberated from the shadow of its prior contexts,’ Franzson tells us.
Such thinking could have resulted in music of suffocating, navel-gazing academicism but Franzson cooks up those conceptual beginnings into a sonic art that is clearly going places. The Negotiation of Context (a) is scored for piano and pump organ. And the reasoning behind this unlikely instrumental alliance, he explains, is because in 19th-century Iceland only six pianos existed (and no one knew how to tune them) and you were much more likely to hear a pump organ. What interests Franzson now is not historical evocation but something more akin to fictionalised archaeology: unpicking how this pair of instruments which were linked by historical circumstance function, and how their sound worlds might be made to overlap.
Isolated percussive knocks accelerate towards rickety mechanistic grooves. Strings from inside the piano are co opted into action, notes scraped and tickled, wavering and warbling like a slide guitar. Musicians from Yarn|Wire have an animated conversation, throwing sound backwards and forwards, leaning in for extra emphasis, rolling with ideas that capture their imagination. You wonder how Franzson notates this music. Not every note is fixed in time on the stave, surely?
The Negotiation of Context (b) and (c) extend these basic principles. The second piece finds common cause between two pianos and two bass drums modified with guitar strings stretched over their skins; and in the third piece a piano has its sounds transformed by an assistant who works with miscellaneous objects inside the instrument. Sounds collide and form brief flirtatious allegiances; but Franzson’s open-plan, fast-changing structure keeps the
context forever fluid.