Scott McLaughlin-691x – 1

Scott McLaughlin’s “we are environments for each other” Centers the Beauty of Group Creativity

we are environments for each other is a breathtaking new release nearly 10 years in the making that highlights the art of collaboration. Released April 26 on Huddersfield Contemporary Records, an NMC Recordings label, the album highlights the close working relationships between composer Scott McLaughlin, violinist Mira Benjamin, and pianist Zubin Kanga as they navigate McLaughlin’s concept of the “dance of agency;” each composition on the album explores the relationship between performers and their individual nuances on their instruments, challenging them to sit in the presence of their sound and respond accordingly.

McLaughlin is an Irish-born composer and free improviser based in Leeds. His practice fuses his dreams of being a physicist with years playing in art indie-bands, later finding experimental music as a central point for bringing his ideas together. Joining Benjamin and Kanga on live electronics, McLaughlin introduces an amorphous sound world in the title track, feeding Kanga’s use of an electromagnetic resonator that causes the piano strings to vibrate through a looping system. The resonance of the violin feels as though it’s expanding and contracting through and alongside this multi-layered loop, resulting in mesmerizing sounds that are innately pure yet fleeting, like rubbing the edge of a wine glass only for a second. Twinges in the sound appear as gritty bow pressure, metallic and wind-like tones of the electronics, and violin harmonics that feed back into the resonance of the piano strings.

Mira Benjamin -- Photo by Anton Lukoszevieze

Mira Benjamin — Photo by Anton Lukoszevieze

As the soundworld of the piece moves between fragility and full-bodied confidence, textural shifts are dictated by both the agency given over to technology and the incredible adaptability of the performers; in their interactions with the electronics, the trio experiments with their human nature: how the decisions they make in terms of sound creation and artistry affect the listening experience. There is no competing for attention, but rather an agreement to layer patiently and listen closely to create a cohesive sonic experience.

the endless mobility of listening is all about bow pressure – in particular, “drone bowing,” where Benjamin alters her bow speed, pressure, and angle in the quieter parts of the violin’s range to make the string vibrate in an unfamiliar way. The continuous stream of sound shimmers with fuzz, noise, sometimes multiple notes, and other times a dissonance that sits satisfyingly between the ears. The subtle interlaying of electronics and feedback feel like watching the knobs on a mixing board slowly turning with such smoothness that we don’t even notice a shift. The way that Benjamin’s playing unravels is particularly fascinating: using modified tunings on different strings, her close and careful listening allows her to breathily float over the electronic texture and perfectly clash with it at the same time.

Zubin Kanga at Kings Place, London -- Photo by Robin Clewley

Zubin Kanga at Kings Place, London — Photo by Robin Clewley

We don’t normally think of the piano as a “sustaining” instrument, but the final track, in the unknown there is already a script for transcendence, defies this idea, using prepared piano, electronics, and an electromagnetic resonator to create a sound that is like a bow moving across the piano strings. The jangly opening is more active and rhythmic than the other tracks, creating a busy, wavy atmosphere. Kanga finds points of stillness throughout where blocks of sound are tested before our very ears before coming back to the persistent movement across the keys. Though the piece is noticeably faster paced and more varied, elements from the first two tracks insert themselves into the texture, including long, harrowing drones, sparkles of thin, indeterminate sound, and slow introspection.

McLaughlin often uses the term “material indeterminacy” to describe his work; the small, unique decisions made by performers to shift the color, sound, and texture are intended to be some of the jewels of listening to music. With its entrancing performances, we are environments for each other becomes a beautiful experience of close collaboration for the listener, too, as we wonder what we will be introduced next. We are invited to join the trance-like experience created by the performers and explore the decisions that lay in front of us as a group.


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