Previously, I have spoken of the “musical plurality” of Mia Brentano’s music, in refer- ence to her album Hidden Sea (see Fanfare 42:1). In the same issue, my colleague Jacquel- ine Kharouf came to similar conclusions: “With combined elements of jazz, classical, and Minimalist compositional styles, the music of Mia Brentano’s Hidden Sea defies the con- ventions of categorized, genre-specific music.” Much the same could be posited about the present collection of pieces, which moves easily, some might say virtuosically, from Mod- ernist gesture through to veiled spaces and pieces that verge on easy listening. In the spaces between our human urge to categorize is a plethora of experience, under 15 enigmatic and evocative titles, themselves ranging from “Blue Moon” and “Silver Rain” to “Brahms is Sleeping” and “Over the City of Glass.” When we do get to the more cushioned aural expe- riences (“Wide Open Landscape,” for example) or the references to popular music (“Over the City of Glass”) and jazz (“Angry Mia” for the agile kind, “Septemberland” for the more easy listening end of the spectrum), the effect is not anomalous; rather, there’s an opening out into simply a different space. Or perhaps put even better, we shift into a different room in our minds.
Whether explicitly Minimalist or merely referring to a Minimalist non-directional tonal sound space, Brentano conjures up magic in this area. The piece entitled “Silver Rain,” for computer-controlled synthesizer, is a case in point: glistening, full of question marks.
The music itself pays tribute to the likes of Kafka, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Poe, and Paul Auster; and those tributes, in their exploration of liminal spaces (most explicitly between dream and reality), naturally extend to film makers such as Hitchcock, Tarkovsky, and David Lynch. For “Les champs magnètiques,” Brentano opts for a text by André Breton and Philippe Soupault; the recording includes the sound of gently falling rain, a beautiful synchronicity that occurred during the recording itself. Another vocal movement, “Der Stille des verlassenen Raumes” references three languages, Amharic, Icelandic, and Yoru- ba, and offers thoughts on the end of the Berlin Wall while meditating on the idea of aban- doned spaces. Even the booklet notes, by Klaus Martin Kopitz, echo this elliptical world: “The content of the respective texts is of no importance for the understanding of the music, although they definitely mean something,” he says.
Production values are superb. The recording is fabulous (demonstration standard, even: Electronic soundscapes were created at the Studio for Electroacoustic Music at the Berlin
Academy of Arts), while performances exude a sort of slick knowing. The tightness of the clarinets (four clarinets and bass clarinet, to be exact) in “Angry Mia” is breathtaking. And the performers are simultaneously delightful in realizing the wit of Brentano’s music here. Benyamin Nuss is fabulous, particularly in the gentle jazz of “Septemberland” (where he accompanies himself on the second piano). The sound collage of “Ghosts (for Paul Aster)” is splendidly, atmospherically managed; the simple upward two-note gesture is appropriate- ly disconcerting for the listener in its quiet insistence. Along with “Les champs mag- nètiques,” this is one of the two longest single movements at over 10 minutes, giving us time to fully enter this sound world that invites us to immerse ourselves in it. “Ghosts” takes in a plethora of disjointed sounds meant to intrigue as well as, one imagines, to dis- comfort. The original idea was for a radio play (something entirely believable in retro- spect), but in its stead Brentano created a piece about the novel, including tracking the course of the narrative to its violent end.
The crepuscular Dancing in Twilight, for the intriguing mix of piano, two clarinets, and five trombones (a scoring beautifully handled both in scoring and performance), leads to the final instrumental song without words, a song of farewell: “Brahms is Sleeping” for clarinet and piano, with Andy Miles’s eloquent clarinet having the, perhaps predictably enigmatic, last word.
Brentano’s music defies categorization, but always offers a profound experience. Rec- ommended. Colin Clarke