PARSONS Patterns of Connection - Instrumental Music 1962‑2017
In 1969 Michael Parsons founded the Scratch Orchestra alongside Cornelius Cardew and Howard Skempton. Parsons’s music before then tended to post-Webernian atonality; after, he pursued a formalistic, systems-based vein, eventually readmitting indeterminate elements. Apartment House’s association with his music is longstanding (Parsons has composed two Apartment House Suites) and here the ensemble present the first substantial survey of his work. Covering six decades, it’s a rich collection that helps fill in our picture of British music since the 1960s.
The music is presented in a non-chronological order. Most works are relatively brief, many insistently repeating a given pattern – rhythmic, melodic, contrapuntal – until reaching exhaustion. 12 Part Canon (1997) for solo piano is a case in point, a babbling sheet of colour punched out from minimal means (Philip Thomas plays as if at a musical typewriter). Talea 3 (1999) for solo cello extracts unusual contours from quasi-tonal material. Kettle’s Yard Canon (1996) for clarinet and flute is reminiscent of Castiglione’s unreeling repetitions. At times it almost sounds like non-Western music, as in Percussion & Glissandi (1999), where dappled woodblock falls across sustained string and wind surfaces.
The systems-based nature of much of Parsons’s music sees unfamiliar sounds emerge from familiar material. Even when tonal elements are present, the process-based nature of the music conjures something much more meditative. In Independent Pulses (1998) colours gently flicker around the ensemble in brief notes recurring out of phase. The semi-delirious repetition of short figures in Second Bagatelle (1990) for solo piano shows from where Laurence Crane takes his cue. It’s not always successful, though: Fourths and Fifths (1990, one of three works here with that title) for solo flute is banal in material and robotic in phrasing.
The helpings here are generous – perhaps even too generous. Accordingly it’s a release to listen to not in one go but over time in morsels.