Ensemble neoN Niblock / Lamb

Ensemble neoN Niblock / Lamb
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On their new record Niblock / Lamb, Norwegian group Ensemble neoN tackles two pieces with similar ideas and execution, but two composers of wildly different vintages. The first, Phil Niblock, has been working in experimental circles for over 50 years. Meanwhile, Catherine Lamb's only been around for a little over a decade. However, in the Ensemble neoN's hands, these two pieces complement each other.
 
Niblock's long piece, "To Two Tea Roses," opens the record. It's a long, swirling piece where music comes around in bright, sweeping gestures. Droning strings and percussion slowly fade in a raga-like groove. Eventually, new sounds emerge — a droning viola, for example — and change the mood and texture, but the piece continues its slow burn for a good 23 minutes.
 
The second piece, "Parallaxis Forma," by Catherine Lamb, is a vocal showcase, with the ensemble fading in and out. Is that a horn? A cello? Instruments come into the mix and add new, dramatic textures, but the core of the music are the two voices. Their wordless vocalizing keeps the music anchored, similar to the way Norma Winstone did on those old Azimuth records, allowing the instruments room to breath.
 
While it sounds airy and moody, repeated listens show the tension lying just underneath, especially in the way the strings and voices tangle and entwine.
 
Together, these pieces, each long enough to fill one side of the record, combine an interesting listen. At first it's droning and repetitive, a more careful listen reveals shifts in tone and texture, tension and energy. It's like listening to an old piece by Steve Reich: it seems as simple as a ringtone, but under the surface there's a lot waiting to be discovered and appreciated. Best approach Niblock / Lamb with an open mind. (Hubro)